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North Hills Monthly

PA Legislators Considering School Emergency Epinephrine Act

Jul 30, 2014 11:10AM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe
There are many reasons why a child with severe allergies might need access to epinephrine, such as the sudden onset of a food allergy or an allergic reaction to a bee sting. And while most parents of these children are prepared in the case of an emergency, what happens in schools when a child has a severe allergic reaction?

This concern is the impetus behind the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, signed by President Obama in November 2013. The act encourages all states to have in place a set of guidelines or regulations to provide an unspecified epinephrine auto-injector in schools. In Pennsylvania, House Bill No. 803 would require schools to provide an epinephrine auto-injector to a student who has a prescription on file and is ‘authorized to self-administer’; administer an epinephrine auto-injector to a student who has a prescription on file or to a student who, in their best judgment, is having an anaphylactic episode; and keep in safe storage undesignated prescription epinephrine auto-injectors.

As part of the bill, schools would be responsible for training specific individuals to safeguard and administer these injectors. These individuals would also be responsible for calling 911 in the event of epinephrine use. Parents would have the option to exempt their child from this protocol if they prefer.

Eight states already require schools to provide epinephrine. Pennsylvania encourages these steps, but House Bill 803, which was re-referred to the Appropriations Committee in June, would mandate it. While the pros are obvious—a safer educational experience for children with severe allergies—the cons could bring a halt to the bill.

Notably, not all schools have a dedicated nurse; some nurses travel from school to school, seeing hundreds of students a day. This would leave the responsibility of determining if a student is having an anaphylactic episode to an administrator, secretary or teacher. The liabilities involved in this situation are staggering.

While cost can also be a factor, some companies such as Mylan, Inc., which manufactures EpiPen® and EpiPen Jr.®, provide up to four free pens per school with a valid prescription.

Locally, Seneca Valley School District (SVSD) is already compliant. “The district has been well ahead of the curve on this issue; the administration has authorized the annual purchase of a school EpiPen for many years,” said Linda Starosta, who serves as the school nurse at Evans City elementary and middle schools.

While the auto injectors have only been used twice in Starosta’s 15-year tenure, she believes that the pens are necessary. “Having an EpiPen on site can potentially prevent an unnecessary death,” she said. The district stocks 15 to 20 auto-injectors for a school of just over 1,000 students.

In response to the growing number of food allergies, Seneca Valley developed a committee comprised of nurses, teachers, administrators, school board members and parents with input from the school pediatrician. “All SVSD staff members have been taught to recognize an anaphylactic emergency and how to administer an EpiPen, including teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, administrators and maintenance personnel,” said Starosta.

SVSD has also established an allergy-controlled environment that limits what foods are permitted at school parties, limits food consumed in classrooms, and forbids eating food while on buses. While no public space can be totally allergy-free for every student, SVSD’s policy strives to limit accidental exposure to susceptible students.

Most importantly, parents of an allergic child should make sure to touch base with their child’s school to provide them with details of the child’s allergy and treatment options. “All school personnel should know about your child’s allergy, as prevention is the best medicine,” said Starosta.