After a frightening episode when a school-bus driver gave a store-bought cookie to her son, who has food allergies, Erin Spaulding of Branford started to feel that there is a dangerous gap in transportation procedures in some of our towns.
Although Rhode Island has a law allowing school-bus drivers or monitors to administer an EpiPen if a child is having an allergic reaction, Connecticut has no such stipulation, and policies range from district to district. Eating is not allowed on the bus, but Spaulding says those rules aren't always enforced. This mother, whose kids are allergic to foods such as eggs and nuts, is on a mission to help her children, Conor and Caroline, and many others.
"What happens when a medical emergency occurs? That's the question we raised," says Spaulding. "What is that driver going to do while they are waiting for the ambulance? Is he going to sit by and not help a child who is going into anaphylaxis or having a seizure?"
A statement from bus company First Student says: "In the event of an emergency, drivers are trained to pull the bus over in a secure location and radio dispatch for assistance."
But Spaulding worries about dead zones, where cellphones and radios won't work.
"My daughter's throat closes within 5 minutes of ingestion. There would not be enough time for that paramedic to get her," she says. And "what about the other children in my school district? What about the other children, not only in our town, but statewide?"
This mother of three doesn't want an EpiPen stored on the bus. That would be problematic because of expense and temperature control. But she has appealed to the Board of Education to require that the bus company train drivers or monitors to administer the prescribed epinephrine kept in a child's backpack.
"It's a work in-progress," says Board of Education Chair Frank Carrano, noting that this complicated request is being discussed by a new committee that will consider the number of children involved. "We've been looking at all of the issues surrounding students with allergies."
He is pleased that a First Student representative has agreed to meet with him and he plans to look at Rhode Island as a model. In response to questions about cost of training, Spaulding says, nurses teach school staff how to use an EpiPen in 30 minutes: "There really is no cost to training a driver. The cost is to the child who has nobody — an adult — who can help them in the case of an emergency."
For now, Spaulding's children are riding a small bus with an aid, a compromise that is working, but 8-year-old Caroline misses her regular routine with her friends and neighbors. Her mom will continue to speak-up until consistent policies are put in place and strictly followed.
"I want to see a safe environment for all children," says Spaulding. "To me, it's a no-brainer."