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Parents concerned about school nurse cuts

Superintendent: Nurse-sharing 'new' to district, but not 'unprecedented'

Posted: November 14, 2012 - 12:02am

Less than a week after allocating funds to tackle one staffing issue in the Juneau School District, the district’s Board of Education heard about another Tuesday evening, as several parents spoke out against the sharing of school nurses between certain Juneau schools.

Due to cuts to the school nurse program, schools such as Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School and Thunder Mountain High School have only a part-time nurse, as some schools are sharing a nurse.

Brooke Rohweder, whose daughter has a condition that requires her to take medication, said that Dzantik’i Heeni’s lack of a full-time nurse has led to her daughter missing her scheduled doses on occasion. She claimed that the cuts could amount to “discrimination” against students with chronic conditions or disabilities.

“School staff members are not substitute for a trained nurse in the care of my daughter or any other student,” said Rohweder, despite noting that some Dzantik’i Heeni staff have been trained as “unlicensed assistive personnel,” or UAPs, capable of carrying out certain medical duties.

Rohweder added, “By using UAPs in place of a nurse, I believe the Juneau School District has lowered the standards of care in schools to the point that can be considered discrimination against students with disabilities both hidden and visible.”

Parents Teresa Kesey and Shaunna Sollie made similar arguments, with Kesey remarking that not all of Juneau’s schools have to share a nurse.

“The rationale for staffing some with a full-time nurse and others with a half-time nurse is unclear at this point,” Kesey said. “I am concerned that there will be further cuts to nurses in future years.”

Kesey continued, “I request that the school board add this topic as an agenda item to the next school board meeting and give serious consideration to reinstating a full-time nurse to each of our Juneau schools before a medical emergency occurs that could have been prevented.”

Like Kesey, Sollie said that her children have needs that require a nurse to be available at any time.

“People stare at my kids because they have disabilities,” said Sollie. “And sometimes the nurse is the only thing that can help. Not a teacher, because they’re so busy.”

During a break in the meeting, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said the district has no plans to revert the school nurse plan it adopted for the year, although he acknowledged that the UAPs cannot provide the same degree of care as the nurses.

“I wouldn’t say that having unlicensed assistive personnel, even if trained, affords the same kind of healthcare,” Gelbrich said. “But I would point out that nationally and across our state, there are school districts where nurses are shared among schools to provide the support to kids’ well-being. So it’s not an unprecedented practice. It is new to us, and it’s hard.”

School board members did not comment on the issue during the public participation section of the meeting, as the participation given was not on an item on the meeting agenda. Board President Sally Saddler thanked Rohweder, Kesey and Sollie for their testimony.

Last Wednesday, the school board held a special meeting at which it approved Harborview Elementary School and Glacier Valley Elementary School’s requests for a new teacher (http://bit.ly/T0hyJ1).

An unanticipated surge in student enrollment helped provide the district with some unexpected additional funding, part of which was allocated for the Harborview and Glacier Valley teachers.

But prior to that meeting — at which school nurse Maureen Hall submitted testimony critical of the nurse program cuts as well — the board was wary of requests for more staffing, pointing to a low projected budget reserve for the district. Although it voted to allocate funds to add classes at Juneau-Douglas High School and Riverbend Elementary School in September, even then, board members and district staff noted the JSD’s delicate fiscal situation with dismay (http://bit.ly/Tpplwf).

Brad Hoyt, director of student services, cited limited funding back in September in explaining the school nurse program cuts as well (http://bit.ly/TDH5UD).

The school board meeting Tuesday also showcased the elementary school violinists of Juneau, Alaska Music Matters, a music education program led by Glacier Valley music teacher Lorrie Heagy.

Heagy thanked the school board members and those in the audience after the group performed a few tunes, including the “Can-Can,” to which attendees clapped along on cue with conductor Guo Hua Xia.

JAMM’s performance at the meeting was filmed for a planned Public Broadcasting Service professional development series (http://bit.ly/Zq5qny).

Jill Peters, executive producer of children’s and educational media at New York City-based PBS affiliate Thirteen/WNET, is in town this week for that project.

“It has been my privilege to spend this week at Glacier Valley,” Peters said to the board. She added, “I hope you’re not sick of the compliments, but every day, I have just seen more and more that has been absolutely inspiring.”

The professional development series in which JAMM will feature is expected to be available on the Web in early 2014.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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