THE UNION representing nurses in the Philadelphia School District wants the state to force the district to stop allowing non-nurses from medicating students.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed a claim last week with the state Department of Health arguing that permitting the non-nurses to do so violates state school code and the Guidelines for Pennsylvania Schools for Administration of Medications and Emergency Care.
The district cut 47 school-nurse positions in December as part of a plan to close a $629 million budget shortfall.
The cuts have led to more schools sharing nurses. At schools without nurses, medication and feeding tubes are being administered by principals, secretaries, teachers, counselors and even community liaisons, according to a survey of more than 100 schools conducted by the PFT.
PFT President Jerry Jordan called on the state to move quickly to end the problem, which he described as serious and dangerous.
"The district is engaging in risky behavior," Jordan said. "The potential for an untrained and unsupervised employee to make a life-threatening mistake is too serious a risk to be taken."
Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman, said that the district is confident that its protocols for administering medication are legal and fully address the medical needs and well-being of students.
Holli Senior, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said that the complaint was under review, but she wouldn't comment further.
Lynette Lazarus, who has worked as a school nurse for 25 years, remembers when the district had more than 400 nurses, in the 1980s. That number has dropped to about 200 to care for more than 150,000 students.
She believes that the district doesn't realize how complicated some children's conditions are. Diabetes and asthma are of growing concern to school nurses, hwo have been the victims of budget cuts across the country.
In cases of seizures, if no nurse is present, the district's policy is to call 9-1-1. "Sometimes it gets there in a timely fashion, and sometimes it does not," Lazarus said.
Lauren Perez, the mother of a boy in kindergarten at Roxborough's Dobson Elementary School and of another boy who will be in kindergarten there next year, has reason to be concerned. Her younger son is a type 1 diabetic.
All it would take is one missed snack and a high level of activity to send him into a coma, Perez explained. Without the attention of a full-time nurse, she said, there's no one to pick up on the subtleties of her son's condition, something that could make a big difference in an emergency.