Judge rules Santa Rosa girl taking medical cannabis for seizures can attend public school

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Tears streamed down Jana Adams’ face Friday when her attorney delivered the news by phone that her 5-year-old daughter, Brooke, can continue attending public elementary school — and bring with her the cannabis-based medication she needs.

The move came after state administrative law Judge Charles Marson ruled Brooke, who suffers frequent seizures because of a rare form of epilepsy, may continue to attend Village Elementary School in Santa Rosa with her emergency medicine. Marson’s decision overruled the Rincon Valley Union School District’s stance that allowing her on campus and the school bus violated state and federal laws barring medical marijuana on school grounds.

“I was so overwhelmed with emotion and joy that we don’t have to fight anymore after a battle of over two years,” said Jana Adams. “I’m grateful that we had this ruling so she can just go to school like any other child and we don’t have to keep pushing to get what she needs.”

Under prior temporary order from Marson, Brooke has been attending kindergarten at Village Elementary since August, accompanied by a nurse who administers the THC oil that helps with her seizures. In that time, Brooke has had at least three seizures on school grounds according to her mother, but the cannabis treatment prevented prolonged convulsions and averted calls for an ambulance for emergency help.

Brooke Adams during her first day of kindergarten at Village Elementary School in Santa Rosa on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. (Courtesy of Jana Adams)

“She has them at different times of the day, and you don’t know when it comes,” said Adams. “To be able to see the marijuana working and not have to call 911 because it stops the seizure is amazing.”

Joe Rogoway, the Santa Rosa-based cannabis attorney representing the Adams family, argued that Brooke’s genetic condition, known as Dravet Syndrome, clearly qualified her to attend school under federal law. He also believed the school district misapplied state statutes that prohibit medical marijuana on campus in its rationale for denying her access, namely given Brooke’s diagnosed need for the drug.

The district’s prior proposal — to make an educational accommodation for Brooke that would have had an instructor at the Adams’ home for up to an hour per school day — was inadequate, Rogoway said. That alternative granted no chance, he said, for her to socialize daily with kids her age, which neurologists have told the family Brooke needs to continue developing cognitively.

Rogoway was unfamiliar with any other case of its kind in California, though other districts around the state, including the Bay Area, have proactively created policies to make exceptions for students with disorders requiring medical marijuana.

He praised Judge Marson’s ruling and felt it could pave the way toward access to public education for other children facing similar administrative hurdles.

“It’s always an uphill battle to convince the government to allow for medical marijuana use in sensitive areas,” said Rogoway. “The ruling is profound and the judge found it so incredibly important for children like Brooke. Hopefully it provides opportunities for not just her, but other families in the same situation who desperately want to be able to go to school and socialize with children in their peer group.”

Marson is a judge in the state office of Administrative Hearings’ Special Education Division, which handles disagreements between school districts and parents of children with disabilities.

District officials were still reviewing the decision Friday, but said in an initial statement they were glad to have some legal clarity brought to the issue and were not planning a legal challenge, though they still have a chance to appeal the ruling.

As Brooke Adams, 5, comes back from a seizure, her mother Jana calms her after administering a cannabis-based medication (CBD) and oxygen, Monday, July 23, 2018 at their home in Santa Rosa. Brooke has Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic dysfunction of the brain. The CBD cuts the seizing to just minutes. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2018

“We are pleased with the decision and guidance,” Cathy Myhers, the district’s assistant superintendent for student services, said by email. “We are happy to have a decision that supports our ability to educate and serve this student in our public schools.”

Jana Adams is relieved she doesn’t need to have a conversation with her daughter that she can no longer attend school, where she said teachers tell her Brooke is progressing every day, especially with her speech. She had previously prepped Brooke for such an outcome.

“I kind of explained … but I’m not sure she understands not being able to go to school,” said Adams. “If she had to stay home, I’m sure she would have felt the difference there. Now she’ll be able to stay where she’s at and continue going with her cannabis at public school, where she should be.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.