POLITICS

Proposed law would let kids with asthma keep their inhalers while in school

10/23/2014 11:43 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Children with asthma should be able to carry inhalers with them at all times, as long as they have permission from a doctor and a parent, the mother of a 12-year-old boy who died at school told Ontario legislators Thursday.

Ryan Gibbons died Oct. 9, 2012 after suffering a severe asthma attack when he was outside his school in Straffordville, Ont., during recess, and his inhaler was locked in the office.

"I knew Ryan was able to carry his inhaler, but unfortunately it got taken away and I would get phone calls stating he wasn't allowed to (have it) because it was prescribed medication," said Sandra Gibbons.

"My goal is to get the message out to others so that they can understand how imperative having a relief inhaler available at all times is for all of our children."

Many Ontario school boards have a "misguided one-size-fits-all" policy for prescription drugs that must be changed to protect students with asthma, said Progressive Conservative Jeff Yurek.

"It's through Ryan's Law that we hope to prevent any similar tragedies from happening in our school systems," he said.

Yurek's private member's bill would create a provincial standard for all boards as they prepare new asthma policies, and would allow kids with the disease to carry their emergency inhalers at all times.

It would also require boards to have strategies to reduce asthma triggers at schools, educate teachers and parents about the disease and maintain emergency protocols for students with asthma.

"Some boards have very thorough policies, while others remain inadequate," Yurek said. "With Ryan's Law we can reintroduce common sense into our school system."

Private member's bills rarely become law, but Education Minister Liz Sandals said she was supportive of Ryan's Law and another bill that allows children with severe allergies to carry epi pens to inject epinephrine in emergencies.

"Should a child be able to carry an inhaler or an epi pen if they've got their parents' consent and their doctor's consent? Absolutely," said Sandals. "I'm not in any way questioning that principle."

The Ontario Lung Association said there are about 100 deaths from asthma in the province each year, and one in five children suffers with what doctors call a "chronic inflammatory disease of the airway."

"Without access to their medication and similar protocols, our kids that are living with asthma are at risk," said association president George Habib.

"We must take action to ensure that our schools are places where they can breathe safely and easily."

A previous attempt by Yurek to pass Ryan's Law was stalled when the election was called in May, even though it had received second-reading or approval in principle, so he has reintroduced the bill.

Sandals praised Yurek for making sure his new version of Ryan's Law clarified language around parental and physician consent that the government had expressed concerns about in the previous bill.

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