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[IP] Insulin pump mistaken for beeper; confiscated
Dispute over insulin pump pits student against assistant principal
By Lois K. Solomon
Posted March 22 2002
WEST BOCA 7 The School District is investigating the actions of an assistant
principal who says she thought a student's insulin pump was a pager.
Assistant Principal Nereyda Astiasaran-Perez and Nikki Wagner, the diabetic
student, tell different versions of the incident on Monday at Eagles Landing
Middle School in West Boca Raton.
Astiasaran-Perez said she asked Wagner to give up what she thought was a
beeper, said Principal Ira Margulies. But Wagner and a friend say the
assistant principal tried to yank the pump from where it was attached to the
teenager's lower back.
Margulies said Thursday that school officials are still trying to understand
exactly what happened. Astiasaran-Perez declined to comment.
Margulies gave this account: In a crowded cafeteria, Astiasaran-Perez called
Wagner over because she should have been sitting down. She noticed that
Wagner, an eighth-grader, was wearing what appeared to be a beeper. Students
are prohibited from bringing pagers to school.
Wagner said it was not a beeper, but Astiasaran-Perez "kept asking" what it
was. Wagner got upset, took it off, put it on a table and ran out of the
cafeteria, according to Margulies.
Another student told the assistant principal that the beeper was actually a
blood-sugar monitor, Margulies said. Wagner enters information about the
foods she eats into the pump's computer, and the device dispenses the needed
amount of insulin.
Astiasaran-Perez soon realized it was a medical device and called the
school's police officer, who immediately found Wagner and returned it,
But Wagner and a friend who saw the incident say Astiasaran-Perez tugged on
the pump as Wagner was taking it off. They have given their account of the
event to school officials.
"She was pulling on it," said Wagner, 14. "I felt it. It was bleeding. I
The monitor is connected to Wagner's lower back with tubing and a needle. A
friend who was with Wagner at the time, Sara Krecker, supported Wagner's
"Astiasaran-Perez said, `Give me your beeper,' and Nikki said it wasn't a
beeper, and [the assistant principal] said `Don't give me attitude,'" Krecker
said. The assistant principal tugged on it while Nikki was pulling it out,
Wagner's parents are angry about the incident and have contacted several
school district and state officials. Her parents say they have worked hard to
let school officials know about the needs of diabetic children.
In juvenile diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, which is
needed to regulate blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar include excessive
thirst, extreme hunger, sudden weight loss, excessive urination, and
drowsiness or exhaustion.
Children with diabetes need daily doses of insulin. Many need to eat
regularly to help keep their blood sugar levels stable.
Nikki has had several encounters with teachers who did not know how to handle
blood-sugar problems. In elementary school, her teacher did not allow her to
have a midmorning snack during a state exam. Her blood-sugar level dropped so
low that the school called her mother, who said the staff must allow her to
Her parents have visited congressional offices, joined a School District
health committee, created a diabetes Web site and lobbied schools on behalf
of parents who have had similar problems.
"We need to educate the educators," said her mother, Debbi Wagner. "They
don't follow their own procedures."
Wagner said Nikki's health care requirements are on file with the school. She
said any staff member expected to have contact with her should be familiar
A spokesman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation said she had never
before heard of a school official confusing an insulin pump with a beeper.
She said some teenagers could be reluctant to stick up for themselves in such
a situation because they may feel embarrassed about the illness.
"Perhaps there was not the communication that was so critical," spokeswoman
Michele Ariano said. "A teenager sometimes doesn't communicate. I'm not sure
my principal knew who I was when I was growing up."
Margulies said he plans to speak with his staff when they come back from
spring break next week to talk about how to handle similar situations.
"The real key issue is making sure the confusion doesn't happen again," he
Lois Solomon can be reached at email @ redacted or 561-243-6536.
Copyright ) 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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