Judge considers Santa Rosa girl’s access to cannabis oil at school

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A Santa Rosa mother’s quest to permit her seizure-afflicted young daughter to receive medical cannabis oil treatments while attending a local elementary school played out Wednesday in compelling testimony before a state administrative law judge.

Jana Adams said in a hearing overseen by Judge Charles Marson that her 5-year-old daughter, Brooke, needs cannabis oil nearby at all times in order to function safely in a classroom setting. Brooke has a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome that causes frequent seizures.

“I don’t think she could be safe anywhere, actually” without the oil, Adams said.

But officials representing the Rincon Valley Union School District argued it cannot allow Brooke’s medicine on campus because of multiple legal restrictions, including federal mandates that schools maintain drug-free environments.

“The district would like to place Brooke on a school campus,” said Jennifer Nix, an attorney representing Rincon Valley schools in the case. “However, we cannot place her on a school campus and keep her safe.”

The district has offered to provide homeschooling for Brooke when she enters kindergarten this year, but Adams and her lawyer say that proposal is insufficient. They have argued that bedrock federal protections for disabled people compel the district to accommodate Brooke in a classroom.

The school district’s case, meanwhile, rests on existing federal law that classifies marijuana as an illegal drug. Making an exception for Brooke, district officials say, could jeopardize federal funding for the small public district, which is composed of 10 schools and a home study program.

Marson is set to weigh the competing claims before making a ruling, which could be more than a month away.

During Wednesday’s hearing at Madrone Elementary School, Adams outlined an exhaustive effort to treat her daughter’s seizures, which began when she was a baby. Various medications didn’t work or even made the convulsions worse, she said. But cannabis oil had a transformative effect when Brooke started taking it in 2014, Adams said.

“It was like she had clearer vision. She would notice things more,” Adams said.

“She’s learned a lot ... We wanted to have the best life we could offer her, however long it will be, and so we wanted her to experience life.”

At the hearing, Adams’ attorney, Joe Rogoway, showed a recent video of Brooke experiencing a seizure on a beach.

In the video, the child’s limbs shake and she convulses uncontrollably for a while. Jana Adams applies THC oil to her daughter’s gums, puts an oxygen mask over Brooke’s face and provides additional care for the child until the seizure subsides.

When administered promptly, the oil dramatically shortens Brooke’s seizures, staving off what could otherwise require a trip to the emergency room, Adams said. She and her lawyer described the cannabis oil as a life-saving medication.

Additionally, a nurse who attended pre-school class with Brooke — bringing the cannabis oil along — and a preschool teacher both spoke to the benefits the child has experienced going to school with other children for the past two years.

“She does a lot more things,” said Joseph LeBlanc, a teacher at Humboldt Community Preschool. “Lots of expansion in her interests, in what she wants to do, and her ability to be with the other children. ... She’s become a big part of the class.”

Such personal growth would be stalled and Brooke could suffer some regression, Jana Adams said, under the homeschooling plan proposed by the district.

Cathy Myhers, the district’s assistant superintendent for student services, said at Wednesday’s hearing she did not disagree that being educated in a classroom would benefit Brooke’s development. She also agreed that in order to stay safe, the child needs access to the cannabis oil. But the district does not believe it can legally allow the drug on campus.

Allowing Brooke’s nurse to bring the cannabis oil to school could jeopardize federal funding for the entire district, Myhers said.

“It’s how do we keep a student safe and follow the law at the same time,” she said. “I don’t get to pick which law trumps the other. I have to try to comply with both.”

Rogoway argued that paramount over all the school’s considerations is “a 5-year-old little girl that wants to go to school.”

Marson directed both sides to submit their closing arguments in writing by Aug. 27. His decision can be appealed to federal district court.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com.

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