Parents, School Fight Over Gym Class For Student With Diabetes

Filed under: In The News

Jack McLaughlin, 11, who has diabetes, needs gym class every morning to stay healthy, his parents say. Credit: Clem Murray, Philadelphia Inquirer / MCT

Students at Lionville Middle School in Exton, Pa. have morning gym class two out of every six days. David and Cathy McLaughlin say their diabetic 11-year-old son Jack needs more exercise than that.

School authorities disagree.

Gym classes rotate with music and reading-skills classes. School authorities tell the Philadelphia Inquirer that the McLaughlins have been offered exercise options for Jack that don't cut into those other classes.

It boils down to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The federal law requires school districts to provide services designed to meet each student's individual educational needs.

Jack with his parents David and Cathy McLaughlin. Credit: Clem Murray, Philadelphia Inquirer / MCT

The McLaughlins and school officials disagree on how important the gym classes are for Jack.

His parents say the insulin-dependent sixth-grader needs daily exercise to counter an after-breakfast sugar spike. Jack tells the Inquirer that morning physical activity helps him through the rest of the day.

"I did feel a lot better [after morning gym class]," he tells the paper. "I don't see what the big deal is."

School officials said the McLaughlins have not sufficiently demonstrated that Jack's health would be threatened without daily gym classes, instead of informal exercise opportunities such as a school walking club and intramural sports. Both sides will present their arguments at a hearing Dec. 16.

Kelly Darr, a lawyer with the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, tells the Inquirer that the McLaughlins have to prove that Jack will not get the same quality of education as his classmates if he doesn't have gym every day. If they can do that, she says, "they've got a pretty good case."

However, Darr tells the newspaper, the accommodation the family seeks is unusual. Plus, some diabetes specialists aren't convinced by the McLaughlins' arguments.

Howe tells the paper that the McLaughlins risk sending "a message that children with diabetes need special treatment, and that is not the case."

Cathy McLaughlin tells the Inquirer that she wants her 11-year-old son to fit in. "But my overriding concern is to make wise choices with regard to his health, both today and in the future, and to help him enrich his school day."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.