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Seizure Smart Schools: Bemidji schools to observe new seizure response protocols

Starting with the 2022-2023 school year, parents of Minnesota students can have better peace of mind when it comes to their schools’ seizure response protocols.

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BEMIDJI — Parents of Minnesota students can have better peace of mind this school year when it comes to their schools’ seizure response protocols.

Signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz on June 30, 2021, Minnesota has joined the ranks of 13 other states to pass Seizure Smart Schools legislation, which requires public and charter schools to implement seizure action plans and training to meet the needs of students with seizure disorders and who may need medication administered to them.

“Prior to this school year, students who experienced a seizure at school had no assurance that their school staff could respond to their seizure and help keep them safe,” said Glen Lloyd, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. “Now families have the peace of mind that if a seizure happens at school, students will receive the care they need and deserve.”

According to Lloyd, the Epilepsy Foundation has provided seizure response training, education and support for thousands of schools across the state since 2010. However, schools had to be proactive in requesting this training prior to 2022.

“Now, Seizure Smart Schools legislation requires that this school year, every public and charter school have at least one staff member trained in seizure response,” Lloyd added. “The responsibility is no longer on individual families or educators.”

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From plan to action

Ruth Schmitz of Willmar proposed a basic framework for Seizure Smart schools in a college paper she wrote in 2019. She sent this to Assistant Minority Leader Dave Baker, R-Willmar, who then drafted the initial legislation that would soon pass.

“We led our community in rallying behind the effort and thankfully we saw the bill through to passage in 2021,” Lloyd detailed.

According to Minnesota Statute 121A.24, a seizure action plan must:

  • Identify a school nurse or a designated individual at each school site who is on duty during the regular school day and can administer or help administer seizure rescue medication approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
  • Require training for the designated employee on seizure medications, recognition of signs and symptoms of seizures and appropriate steps to respond to seizures.
  • Be filed in the office of a school principal, licensed school nurse or other professional nurse or designated individual in the absence of a licensed school nurse.

The designated employee or volunteer must also be given notice and a copy of the plan, who in return, must provide a method of contact in the case of an emergency.
Lisa Necastro, regional outreach manager for western Minnesota as part of the Epilepsy Foundation, has been active in providing training to schools throughout the region including St. Philip’s Catholic School, Blackduck and Win-E-Mac Public Schools.

“Schools are an excellent place for these trainings, but any community organization could benefit,” Necastro said. “The Bemidji area has been an area of focus and (the Epilepsy Foundation) has planned and hosted several social events in Bemidji to support and unite individuals and families impacted by epilepsy.”

Necastro detailed the annual United in Epilepsy Walk fundraisers, for which Bemidji was one of eight cities across the state to host in August 2022. The Foundation has so far raised a total of $184,672 across all events to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with those who have epilepsy.

She also noted the Foundation's Season of Giving, for which the public can make holiday crafts and cards that will be delivered to residents of local long-term care facilities this year. A meal and conversation gathering will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Bemidji Public Library.

Rural resource

Understanding not only the individual but also familial impacts of epilepsy, Necastro noted a personal connection to the Foundation’s mission with her son having epilepsy.

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“I know what it is like to send a child to school and wonder what will happen if he has a seizure and I know how important the communication is between parents and school staff,” she mentioned. “I’m glad to be able to provide that support as someone who understands and shares many of the same experiences.”

According to Lloyd, around 7,000 youth in Minnesota live with epilepsy with more than 3,000 being enrolled in public or charter schools. Citing the American Academy of Pediatrics, he added that seizures are the third most common school emergency.

“A majority of the time, seizures don’t look like they do in the movies. Many times, it can appear like a student isn’t listening or paying attention,” Lloyd said. “When educators are trained in what seizures look like, they can be part of the diagnosis process, alerting families who may not yet know that their child is living with epilepsy.”

Bringing these training opportunities to rural areas is one such priority that the Foundation aims to address.

“Rural communities like Bemidji don’t have the same community resources as the metro area,” Lloyd added. “Seizure Smart Schools is a step toward ensuring every family living in Bemidji has the level of support they deserve.”

More information can be found at www.epilepsyfoundationmn.org.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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