Story at a glance

  • About 150,000 people develop epilepsy each year, with young children and older adults being most likely to develop the disorder.
  • Students with epilepsy miss more than 11 days of school on average.
  • A new bill would educate school staff to better deal with seizures and other issues that may conflict with a student’s education.

Two Virginia students — high-schooler Jamie Van Cleave and middle-schooler Brie Gesick — just want to go to school. But their epilepsy makes it difficult. 

"Getting this law passed would mean we don’t have to go to school scared every day because we know someone is going to be there who knows how to handle seizures and we’ll be safe,” Van Cleave told the Daily Press

Under the bill, named the “Jamie and Brie Strong Act,” schools must train their staff to detect and respond to seizures, create plans for students with epilepsy or other seizure disorder and administer medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The bill would also extend the Good Samaritan Act to cover nurses and school staff from liability when caring for a student experiencing a seizure. Kentucky, Indiana, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey have all passed similar bills.

An estimated 2.2 million people in the United States have epilepsy, with 150,000 people developing the disorder each year, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, which endorses the bill. Young children and older adults are most likely to develop the disorder. 

Of course, epilepsy isn't the only reason people may experience seizures. In fact, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, 1 in 10 people around the world will have a seizure in their lifetime. 

“As a parent, I can attest to the importance and need for this bill which will make a huge difference in the life of not just my daughter, but for so many other families,” said Christie Van Cleave, in a press release. “Now that Brie and Jamie have found each other, they are working together as a team. Despite the challenges of living with epilepsy, these girls continue to persevere and advocate to make positive change for the entire epilepsy community. Their conditions will not be in vain.”

This effort seeks to address the younger end of those affected by epilepsy or seizures. On average, students between the ages of 6 and 17 with epilepsy miss more than 11 days of school, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

“This important legislation will provide safety and security for our young children while they attend school,”  said Virginia state senator Bill DeSteph, who sponsored the bill, in the release. “I am proud to champion the Jamie and Brie Strong Act, as we refer to it here in Virginia, and look forward to joining other states in passing this important legislation.”

The bill has been referred to committee where it will be considered in a newly Democrat-led House of Delegates. 

Published on Jan 13, 2020