While the lack of classroom space and state funding have dominated the debate over public schools for years, some parents are turning their attention to another shortage: nurses.
Parents from District 30’s Community Education Council sent a legal brief to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein last month demanding that the Department of Education adopt a new policy requiring a registered nurse in every school.
According to the most recent data, only 40 percent of intermediate schools and 30 percent of high schools have a full time nurse to administer daily medications and monitor kids with potentially life threatening conditions.
With the rate of allergies, obesity and asthma rising in the school age population, parents are worried this shortage will deprive their children of the medical attention they need. “Most of our schools are downwind from the BQE, the LIE and KeySpan park, so we’re right in asthma alley,” said Jeff Guyton of the District 30 council, based in Long Island City. “Not to mention all the kids who have unreported heart conditions or food allergies.”
Under city policy, all principals must recommend six staffers for training in CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, use of a defibrillator for cardiac arrests and administering epinephrine to students in anaphylactic shock from bee stings. These staffers act as a school’s first responder team during medical emergencies.
But only a registered nurse can watch over a child’s longterm health, said Carole Marchese, director of the city’s Office of School Health, which is jointly funded by the Departments of Health and Education. Every day, school nurses chart weight changes in dozens of obese students; monitor blood sugar levels and administer insulin to diabetics; and ensure that kids with unique conditions, like epilepsy, keep up with their daily medication schedule.
“It can be a heavy burden when you’re taking care of up to forty or fifty kids a day,” Marchese said, “so you have to understand that school nurses have their plates full, sometimes to the point where it’s unmanageable.”
Compounding these challenges is a lack of funding for the citywide nursing program, parents asserted. Klein’s policy requires that all elementary schools employ a nurse. But the city does not ensure funding for nurses at intermediate or high school levels, and only allocates extra money for schools with special education programs or students with disabilities in the higher grades.
Even at schools that receive funds, nurses earn far less than they would in private practice and often deal with a lack of support staff and proper facilities. At some overcrowded schools, for instance, nurses have been forced to work out of a bathroom or old supply closet, Guyton said.
“It’s a shame that the nurses should have to deal with that, and students have that embarrassment” said District 30 Council President Jeannie Tsavaris Basini. “Our kids deserve a lot better.