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[IP] Insulin pump mistaken for beeper; confiscated

Dispute over insulin pump pits student against assistant principal

By Lois K. Solomon 
Education Writer 
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, 
Margulies said.

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 
said, `Ow.'"

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, 
Krecker said.

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 
with them.

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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