Your Rights, One Voice: Marissa’s Story

MarissaFour-year-old Marissa was happily attending a Head Start preschool program in Philadelphia. This publicly funded program was a calm and safe place for Marissa to be during the week, since her family was struggling with health and financial issues. Her dad uses a wheelchair and her mom had been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.

So attending this program was good for Marissa and good for her family. School was a place where she could learn, have fun and play with other children.

But everything changed after Marissa was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

After learning about Marissa’s diagnosis, the school district said that she could not come back to the Head Start program. The family was told that, since there was nobody to provide diabetes care throughout the school day, the only way Marissa could attend was if they hired and paid for a nurse themselves. But that was simply not possible. So–just like that–Marissa was out of school and stuck at home.

For the next few months, Marissa’s mother, grandmother and other family members tried and tried to figure something out. They called their state representative, contacted education groups, anything to get Marissa back to school. But nobody could help them. Tired and frustrated, they thought nothing could be done.

Then a family friend suggested that they call the American Diabetes Association. They finally got the help they needed.

A Legal Advocate (a lawyer experienced with diabetes discrimination) at the Association let the family know that Marissa had legal rights. By denying her the ability to attend school, the school district had broken federal law.

The Legal Advocate referred Marissa’s case to Alan Yatvin, a Philadelphia member of the Association’s Advocacy Attorney Network. At no cost to the family, Mr. Yatvin reached out to the school district. He presented information about the law and tried to work with school officials to solve the problem. When that didn’t work, he filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding that the school district provide diabetes care for Marissa at school and allow her to return. The district then backed down and agreed to assign a full-time nurse to the school.

After almost five months, Marissa was finally back in school.

Sadly, her mother, Evelyn, died two weeks after Marissa returned to school. Although it was a hard time for the whole family, it helped them to know that Marissa was safe at school, where she belonged.

“I am disappointed that school officials didn’t understand this terrible denial of Marissa’s basic rights. But I am so happy that with the resources of the American Diabetes Association, we were able to help this sweet little girl and her wonderful family. The Association’s Legal Advocacy program made the difference.” – Alan Yatvin

The American Diabetes Association leads the effort to prevent and eliminate discrimination against people with diabetes at school, at work and in other parts of daily life. If you need help, call 1-800-DIABETES or visit

Through our nationwide Safe at School program, the Association is dedicated to making sure that all children with diabetes are medically safe at school and have the same educational opportunities as their peers. Visit our Safe at School website for information and resources.

Give the gift of fairness — donate now to help people with diabetes facing discrimination, just like Marissa:

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This entry was posted in Advocacy, Family, Life with Diabetes, Safe at School, Stop Diabetes, Your Rights, One Voice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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