Midtown Raleigh News

Civil rights complaint filed against the YMCA of the Triangle

The Raleigh father of a child with diabetes has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the YMCA of the Triangle, the largest provider of after-school services in Wake County, because the agency doesn’t provide insulin injections to children in the program.

Bruce Hatcher contends that the YMCA is violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against children with diabetes who may need injections in a medical emergency. Hatcher is also protesting the Wake County school system’s rejection of his 5-year-old son’s medical-transfer request. The family wanted the son to attend an elementary school near an after-school program that would provide the injections.

“We’re not just looking out for the treatment of Bruce’s son,” Lawton H. Hatley III, a Charlotte attorney and volunteer advocate for the American Diabetes Association, said Tuesday. “We’re looking out for the treatment of all the students in the YMCA’s programs.”

The YMCA contracts with the school system to operate after-school programs at 45 Wake County schools, according to Jennifer Nelson, a spokeswoman for the YMCA. She said the YMCA also serves 51 other Wake County schools through after-school programs at YMCA branches.

Nelson said the YMCA is “reviewing other ways we may safely and effectively address the emergency medical issues of children with Type 1 diabetes,” including the way it handles injections and staff training.

“We strongly deny that the YMCA is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we take this situation very seriously,” Nelson added in a written statement.

Stella Shelton, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said in a statement that system staff members are reviewing their processes on renting schools to the YMCA and other groups.

Hatcher said his son was diagnosed with the medical condition at age 3.

Hatcher’s son had been going to a child care program run by Highland United Methodist Church that is trained in providing emergency insulin or glucagon injections. With his son scheduled to begin kindergarten in August, Hatcher requested a transfer for him to attend Lacy Elementary School, which is very close to the church.

“We were trying to make it easy on them,” he said.

But school administrators and ultimately the school board rejected the transfer request, citing crowding at Lacy Elementary. Lacy is under an enrollment cap, meaning students who weren’t previously living in the school’s attendance area can’t attend.

School officials offered Hatcher the choice of attending Stough or Underwood elementary schools, which both have on-site after-school programs run by the YMCA. In the rejection letter, school officials said the YMCA is “willing to work with families regarding special medical circumstances and are able to accommodate medical plans for individuals on an as-needed basis.”

But the form for the YMCA’s after-school program says “the staff of the YMCA of the Triangle will not give shots or administer medications that have to be inserted into body cavities.” An exception is made for EpiPen injections for children going through anaphylactic shock.

Nelson said the YMCA’s protocol for dealing with Type 1 diabetes emergencies has included cake icing by mouth and calling 911 for emergency assistance.

Hatcher said the school system offered to provide a bus for his son to go to Highland’s after-school program. But Hatcher said he turned it down because it would have meant a 35-minute bus ride.

Hatcher ultimately chose Underwood, saying the school has done a good job of handling his son’s situation during the school day. But he’s paying someone other than the YMCA for after-school care.

After failing to persuade the YMCA to change its policy, Hatcher filed a complaint July 30 with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. As the school system’s tenant, Hatcher said, the YMCA should have to follow the same rules required during the school day, to have people be able to provide injections when needed.

“I’m a business owner,” Hatcher said. “If I was violating the law, I should stand up and fix the problem.”