Community Fights For Scool Nurses

  1. A public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8 at NYC's City Hall. Before the hearing, parents and school administrators will be holding a rally for the return of school nurses:

    Private school parents demand return of nurses
    By Jill Gardiner
    Tuesday, October 29, 2002

    Catherine Dempsey, principal of St. Teresa's School, had a busy day Friday. One of her students had an epileptic seizure. Another was stung by a bee. And a third had a severe asthma attack.

    "In three hours, we had three medical emergencies," she said last night to more than 300 people who packed themselves into the Castleton Corners school's gymnasium to address the recent removal of full-time nurses in private elementary schools. "Without a nurse, what would we have done?"

    One after the other, dozens of speakers demanded the city reverse its decision. They told stories about children who need daily insulin shots and of students who stop breathing if they are even touched with a trace of peanut. The city Health Department scaled back the nursing program at the beginning of the school year, saying it was spending twice as much on nursing at private schools and could no longer afford it. It said the new staffing structure would be more equitable by establishing similar student-to-nurse ratios in the public and private school systems. But the city and private school advocates are at odds over the formula now being used to establish "parity" and disagree about who is responsible for providing medical supervision.

    To compound matters, the Health Department is expected to notify schools of more cuts after Dec. 31. "When dealing with issues of human health, especially the health of our children, crunching numbers is not an appropriate way of determining need," said Zoilita Herrera, superintendent of Catholic elementary schools on Staten Island. Elected officials have already commissioned lawyers to examine legal options and to determine if a lawsuit against the city could be successful. In the meantime, politicians are throwing their weight behind the issue. "The parity that they are talking about is hogwash," said Republican Rep. Vito Fossella, who was one of 10 people on the dais and is himself a Catholic school parent.

    "It's morally wrong, it's financially wrong and it's ludicrous." Councilman Michael McMahon (D-North Shore), who introduced a bill last week to mandate full-time nurses at all private elementary schools, said every school, regardless of religious affiliation, deserved nurses. "We get through a budget crisis when we have our priorities straight," he said. "What we are saying to the mayor and the health commissioner is, 'Get your priorities straight.'" And Councilman Andrew Lanza (R-South-Shore) called the decision "mean-spirited" and "blatant discrimination" and said local elected officials would not rest until the problem was resolved.

    Desperate for a solution, parents and school administrators suggested pulling students out of school for a day and enrolling them in a local public school to get their point across. They argued that it would be far more cost-effective for the city to pay for the nurses than to have more kids in the public school system. Donna Rivera, who has a sixth-grader at St. Rita's in Meiers Corners, said she was afraid it would take a student's death to prove the point. Last night's meeting, heated at times, was a precursor to a significant public hearing scheduled for Nov. 8 at City Hall, where members of the private-school community will finally have the chance to testify in front of the City Council's Health Committee and to address Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden.

    Private school parents and administrators will be holding a rally before the hearing. "They are playing Russian roulette with our children's lives," said Katina Lucas, a St. Teresa's parent.
    Jill Gardiner covers health issues for the Advance. She may be reached at

    In a community meeting that was called to fight for school nurses, I do hope there were some school nurses there to make their voice heard & help fight for themselves. Interestingly, there are no comments from nurses quoted in the article. I hope that doesnt mean they werent there, werent involved, and are just depending on the community to fight for them. Hopefully, NURSES will be attending the public hearing & community rallies that THE PUBLIC is putting together to help get school RNs their jobs back.
    Last edit by -jt on Oct 30, '02
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  3. by   WashYaHands
    I hope they attend and speak out too. One of the differences in public policy between states that I noticed was that in this particular state (NY) the Public Health Dept. pays for private school nurses. In other states the school districts pay, and still in others the private schools pay for their own nurses. I certainly commend this community for advocating for a nurse in every school. I hope they win their arguement but if they don't, they can still ask the school to hire it's own nurse(s). Thanks for sharing the article, it will be interesting to see the outcome.