Dear Commons Community,
A suburban school district in Illinois banned a 5th grader from taking medical marijuana at her elementary school. Her parents say it treats the epilepsy she developed after undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. The family is suing the school district and the state of Illinois. The 5th grader at Hanover Highlands Elementary in Hanover Park is not named in the suit. As reported by the Chicago Tribune:
“In a case that could have far-reaching implications, parents of an elementary school student who has leukemia are suing a Schaumburg-based school district and the state of Illinois for the right for her to take medical marijuana at school.
Plaintiffs identified only as J.S. and M.S., parents of A.S., filed suit Wednesday claiming that the state’s ban on taking the drug at school is unconstitutional because it denies the right to due process and violates the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The student, who is 11 years old, was treated for her leukemia with chemotherapy, which resulted in the child now suffering from seizure disorders and epilepsy, according to the suit.
The girl received treatments and a “substantial” amount of traditional medications to treat her seizures, but they were not successful, and the child’s treating physicians have certified her as being qualified to receive medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy, the suit stated.
The family asked officials in School District 54 to allow the girl to store and use cannabis on school grounds but were denied because of prohibitions in state law, according to the suit.
School officials, the attorney filing the lawsuit and national marijuana activists pro and con interviewed for this story did not know of any previous similar court case, meaning this lawsuit could set legal precedent.
The state medical cannabis law prohibits possessing or using marijuana on school grounds or buses, though a school may not prohibit a student from using medical marijuana at home.
District 54 Superintendent Andy DuRoss said officials there regularly work with parents to devise care plans to accommodate the needs of students with medical conditions but are prohibited by state law from allowing pot on school grounds.
“We cannot legally grant the request,” he said. “We’re going to abide by the law and do our best to support our students within the confines of the law.”
He added that the district will comply with whatever is ordered by the courts.
The girl has been attending school off and on depending on her condition but likely won’t be able to continue without her medication, which would be in conflict with a state law requiring children to go to school, her attorney, Steve Glink, said.
Under her doctors’ recommendations, the girl wears a medical cannabis patch on her foot, which contains small amounts of THC, the component of marijuana that can make users high.
Occasionally, when the patch is insufficient to control the girl’s seizures, she uses cannabis oil drops with small amounts of THC on her tongue or wrists to regulate her epilepsy, the suit stated.
The student has an individualized education plan (IEP) for intellectual impairments, and attends “mainstream” classes with a teacher’s aide, according to the suit.
The state’s medical cannabis program provides for qualified patients to take medical marijuana with immunity from state prosecution, despite a federal ban on the drug. However, the state law prohibits use at schools and dictates that school personnel are not required to be caregivers to administer cannabis, and are not immune from prosecution for possession or distribution of the drug.
The suit, filed in federal court in Chicago, asks for a preliminary injunction to allow a school employee to help the student store and consume medical cannabis on school property, on school buses and at school-related events in compliance with her doctor’s orders. Since taking medical marijuana, the girl is calmer and more alert and better able to focus and learn, has fewer seizures and can take less of her traditional, debilitating medicine, a “night and day” difference from before, Glink said.
At least one other state has addressed the issue legislatively. In Colorado, where voters authorized medical marijuana in 2000, lawmakers let schools allow the drug for medical use, but no schools did so initially.
In 2016, in a bipartisan vote, lawmakers mandated that schools allow parents or caregivers to give qualified students medical marijuana. The measure was called Jack’s Law, for Jack Splitt, a 15-year-old with cerebral palsy who died that year, after the law was passed.
Officials of nursing organizations generally did not want nurses to administer the drug at schools, as they do with other medications, because they were worried about the federal law prohibiting marijuana possession, said the sponsor of the law, Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Springer, a Democrat. The law prohibits smoking the drug in school, but allows patches or tinctures, as long as it’s not disruptive to classrooms.
“We fundamentally believe your right to medication should never have to conflict with your right to an education,” Springer said.
He said two doctors must approve medical marijuana for kids under 18, so that medical professionals ultimately decide who qualifies, not lawmakers. Seizures and traditional medications can be so debilitating to children that marijuana’s side effects are far less dangerous, he said.
“There’s a reason parents are doing this,” he said, “It’s not to get their kids high. It’s to keep them alive and healthy.”
This is an interesting issue that needs to be resolved by the State of Illinois since it appears that it is state law that prohibits the use of medical marijuana on school grounds.