The legislation follows the December 2010 death of Chicago Public Schools student Katelyn Carlson, who had an allergic reaction to peanuts at a school party.
Under the new law, a nurse could use an EpiPen or other device to administer the medication to any student suspected of having a life-threatening reaction, even if the child is not diagnosed with an allergy, without fear of legal recourse. The law also removes a restriction that prevented schools from keeping a stock of the medicine on hand.
The measure does not require schools to keep the medicine on hand, as lawmakers did not want to issue a mandate schools could not afford. But sponsors of the legislation say they are confident most schools will invest in a supply of the pens, which cost about $100 a dose.
Carlson's family has since filed a wrongful-death suit against the Chinese restaurant that supplied the food, claiming Katelyn's teacher told the restaurant to avoid using peanut products.
Some parents and health officials say epinephrine auto-injectors such as the EpiPen should be as common in schools as defibrillators are, so immediate help would be available to any student suffering anaphylaxis, the severe allergic reaction that can close off breathing tubes and send the body into shock. But school officials have questioned the financial burden and whether they're even capable of making emergency medical decisions in such cases.