By Ian McCallum, St. Thomas Times-Journal
One year ago this week, 90 MPPs stood up in unison at Queen’s Park in support of Ryan’s Law, a bill drafted to improve the lives of 570,000 asthmatic students in the province.
The private member’s bill, promoted by Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, was in response to the death in October 2012 of Ryan Gibbons, who suffered a severe asthmatic attack while attending Straffordville Public School.
The 12-year-old couldn’t access his inhaler quickly enough to save his life because of a Thames Valley District School Board policy requiring his medication be kept in the principal’s office.
The new legislation, which garnered unanimous support at Queen’s Park on April 30 and royal assent on May 5, was crafted to prevent a tragedy like Ryan’s from happening again.
“Today holds a lot of emotion for myself and my family,” said Ryan’s mother Sandra Gibbons following the vote. “It is hard to find words to describe how I feel with the passing of Ryan’s Law.”
Under the new legislation, students will be allowed to carry an inhaler with them at school with doctor and parental permission. It also mandated school boards to adopt a comprehensive asthma policy that outlines preventative measures as well as emergency procedures.
“This is Ryan’s legacy,” added Dr. Robert Oliphant, president and CEO of the Asthma Society of Canada. “He’s no longer the 12-year-old boy who died as a result of an asthma attack. He’s now the 12-year-old boy who is going to save many, many lives.”
At Queen’s Park Tuesday morning, Gibbons, Yurek and George Habib, president and CEO of the Ontario Lung Association, held a brief ceremony to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Ryan’s Law.
“A law that not only allows students to carry their reliever medication, but creates a framework for asthma-friendly schools throughout the province,” Yurek noted.
He had hoped to see policies in place at the beginning of the current school year last September — a month that is known to have an increased rate of asthma-related emergency room visits for children.
However he expressed disappointment Tuesday with the manner in which the bill is being implemented across Ontario.
“The uptake of Ryan’s Law by school boards is disappointing,” said Yurek. “I’m calling on the Minister of Education to take leadership and partner with the Lung Association to ensure the bill is fully implemented in the province. It is my hope that by the start of the next school year every school throughout the province will be asthma friendly as Ryan’s Law intended.”
“Schools are holding their breath, waiting for direction and support,” added Habib. “We have worked with Ministry of Education staff and other partners to provide resources to school boards but many schools are still unaware that these materials are available or don’t know how to access them.”