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School districts say PED cannabis rule goes too far

Michael Trujillo, 14, is an incoming freshman at Rio Rancho High School. Michael has a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, for which he takes medical cannabis oil. His father, Matias Trujillo, is calling for schools to allow the medicine on campus, per a new law, and pushing for school staff to be able to administer it.

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

There’s still debate surrounding what medical cannabis at school will look like in the coming year, despite a new state law that allows the medicine on campus.

A proposed state Public Education Department rule slated to go into effect Aug. 27 outlines the role districts will play when students use the medicine at school, following big shifts afforded by Senate Bills 204 and 406.

But some districts say the rule goes beyond what the law requires.

They are worried about requiring employees to administer medical cannabis and raised concerns that the rule makes it harder for schools to opt out. However, a lawmaker and parent say those are the very things that could help students with severe medical conditions attend class like other students.

According to the Department of Health, 202 minors are enrolled in the program, 56 of them in Bernalillo County.

As written, the PED rule requires districts to designate someone at the school to be the point person for administering and storing the medicine.

District leaders interpret this to mean that someone on staff is required to give and store the drug.

Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho Public schools have submitted written comment against this.

“Permitting students into schools who use medical cannabis is far different than requiring involvement of employees,” Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Raquel Reedy wrote. She is also raising concerns over civil and criminal liability.

And while the PED rule doesn’t require the designated school employee to be a nurse, several people at a public hearing Friday argued that if nurses were to be the ones to administer medical cannabis, they could lose their licenses since federal law lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug along with LSD and heroin.

Matias Trujillo, a single father of four living in Rio Rancho, says it’s crucial for someone at the school to give his son the medicine.

His 14-year-old son, Michael, an incoming freshman at Rio Rancho High School, takes medical cannabis oil for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe and deteriorating form of epilepsy he’s had since he was 4 years old.

Michael takes it on a piece of cinnamon cereal three times a day. But for one of those doses, he’s at school.

Under the proposed rule and the law, students are not allowed to self-administer medical cannabis at school.

That’s why Trujillo said he needs a school employee to give Michael his medicine at this time.

“It is a timed medicine. If you go an hour to an hour and a half past that time he’s supposed to have it, my son … will start seizing within about an hour and a half of not having his med,” he said.

While he said that he thinks parents should be able to give their kids medical cannabis at schools if needed, his full-time job makes Michael’s middle dose a problem.

“I want him to have an education just like everyone else. I also want to be able to go to work without having to worry about leaving,” he said, adding that nurses give out other prescriptions “like Tic Tacs.”

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who cosponsored SB 204, said districts are being “hyper-technical.”

He said the PED rule does not overreach the state law.

“The statute clearly states that a school district can authorize either school personnel or a caregiver/parent to administer medical cannabis to a student. Nothing about this proposed rule changes that. I do not believe it expands the scope of public school obligations under the statute,” he said.

Among the other contentious parts of the rule is the exemption stipulation.

The PED is aiming to require districts to provide written proof that they will lose federal funding before they can be excluded from following the regulation. But the law says that districts can opt out if they can reasonably determine that the school would lose or has lost federal funding.

APS, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe Public Schools flagged this as a concern.

But Candelaria called that resistance “overblown” and “doomsday concerns.”

The senator pointed to cases outside of the state and federal enforcement thus far, saying to his knowledge the Trump administration has not taken action on states that allow medical cannabis.

“I support the PED rule because it further clarifies that if a school district wants to deny children, who need medical cannabis, their constitutional right of a free education, they should have damn good reason as to why,” he said.

Trujillo doesn’t think districts should be able to opt out at all. “I think it’s ridiculous for (districts) to be against it,” he said.

He said if districts can opt out, then they will, and that leaves kids out of the classroom.

In a written statement, Timothy Hand, deputy PED secretary, added that the rule isn’t finalized and the department is taking feedback into consideration.

“The department’s intent is to adopt a rule that is aligned to state statute and provides clear guidance to anyone affected by the use of medical cannabis in schools,” he wrote in part.

In the meantime, Trujillo waits for word on the final rule as the start of school is just around the corner.

He thinks about whether he will have to leave work like he’s had to so many times before and whether that will affect Michael’s schooling, contemplating on an issue he has spent the better part of a decade grappling with.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do anymore. We changed the law and they’re still pushing back,” he said.

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