Three years ago, Sarah Porter moved her family from Maryland to Douglas County. Colorado had something her family desperately needed: medical cannabis to treat her 13-year-old daughter's debilitating Crohn's disease. Even better, Douglas County School District allowed Porter to administer her daughter's medication at school, the result of a policy approved in 2016.
“She has been healthier and better than she has ever been,” Porter said.
Aligned with a state law passed in 2017, the current policy allows parents or primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana products, hemp oils and other cannabinoid products to qualified students on district property.
In 2018, the state Legislature passed House Bill 18-1286, permitting school districts to authorize school personnel to administer medical marijuana on school grounds, buses and at school-sponsored events.
Which means someone like Porter would no longer have to make a trip to school one or more times a day to give his or her child cannabis. In an emergency situation, an authorized person in the building would be able to assist.
But Douglas County School District's administration team opted to keep its current policy — which allows only parents and legal guardians to administer medical cannabis — which Porter says puts a strain on her schedule and potentially compromises her daughter's health.
Stepping away from work every day to go to Castle Rock Middle School is a challenge, Porter said. And although she'd like to make more money, she has to stay close to her daughter.
"She needs to have her medication evenly spaced out," Porter said. "It's very difficult to have her not able to take a dose at school."
First approached by the Porter family last fall, DCSD administration has stood by its decision to keep its existing policy. The two main reasons: Marijuana is an illegal substance under federal law and the district's current policy on administering prescription and over-the-counter medication is in compliance with the Colorado Nurse Practice Act.
Porter and another Douglas County family continue to champion for an updated policy. Amber Wann's son, a junior at Mountain Vista High School, uses medical cannabis to treat his epilepsy.
In a district that prides itself on unity, Porter and Wann say they feel like their kids are being disregarded, their voices unheard. Both women, sometimes joined by their children, have spoken during public comment at numerous school board meetings. Wann has repeatedly emailed board members and district staff to advocate for the policy change.
“I'm disheartened by the process,” Wann said. “Helping out one student helps out many in the future.”
The board of education has not discussed whether they agree or disagree with administration's recommendation not to update the district's policy, according to school board President David Ray. While he fully supports a parent's decision to use whatever medical treatment necessary to help their child's health issues, he said, updating the current policy would put too much responsibility on staff.
"Our current policy allowing parents to administer the substance on school grounds I support 100 percent," Ray said in an email correspondence. "Unfortunately, this issue is complicated since the substance is not a federally approved pharmaceutical. This seems to place too much responsibility on staff when asking them to decide whether to volunteer to give it or not."
Last August, Eagle County Schools, a district that serves the Vail area, became one of the first school districts in the nation to update its policy on administering medical marijuana.
The community has been supportive of the decision, Daniel Dougherty, chief communications officer, said in an email.
“Generally speaking, the benefit is that students prescribed non-psychoactive CBD oil have a more normal learning experience, receiving medication just like other students,” Dougherty said. “Challenges still exist around administration on field trips, but have really been minimal.”
According to a memo from DCSD, the administration team has considered input and feedback from school leaders, including those who support the policy change. Still, administration will not be recommending a policy change.
Ray encourages parents to continue working with staff to seek creative solutions.
"Understandably, this is an extremely emotional issue for both district personnel and parents," he said. "Everyone wants to do what is in the best interest of the child, while ensuring that no one is being asked to take unreasonable risks."
For Porter and Wann, the fight isn't over
“The only thing that we can do,” Porter said, “is continue to try to educate them on compassionate care and cannabis medicine.”
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