School nurse shortage cited

'We're not a healthcare provider,' superintendent says

The shortage of trained school nurses in the Las Virgenes Unified School District reportedly is among the worst in California. According to a recent study, the average nurse-to-student ratio in California is 1-to-2,791, while the district ratio is 1-to-12,104.

The school district said it plans to conduct a health and safety needs assessment in the

mmediate future.

According to Calabasas City Councilmember Mary Sue Maurer, who sits on city and school partnership and city emergency preparedness task

orces, the assessment is much needed. Maurer is a parent with one asthmatic special-education child and one child with a severe allergy. She said the district is lucky it hasn’t faced a major tragedy.

“There are so many anecdotal stories of problems in the school district, this assessment will tell us whether they are random occurrences or if there are health and safety issues that we need to fix,” Maurer said.

The district and the city, Maurer said “have a shared objective of not only providing one of the best educational experiences in California, but we want to be sure on a day-to-day basis, whether students scrape their knee or there’s a small or large disaster, that they’re safe and protected.”

The city has offered the district $20,000 to pay for the health and safety needs assessment, according to Maurer. One of the many goals of the assessment is to clarify the health clerk’s role, according to district Superintendent Sandra Smyser.

“Health clerks with minimal first aid training have replaced school nurses,” Maurer said. “It’s one of the tragic outcomes of the state budget crisis. School districts, in order to protect the classroom (from cuts), have cut school nurses. At the same time, you’re seeing rises in kids with asthma, diabetes and kids on different medications.”

Maurer said health clerks aren’t authorized to do some of the important tasks of a nurse, such as giving an insulin shot. According to Smyser, the district doesn’t expect to authorize health clerks to do such tasks.

“We’re not a healthcare provider and we don’t want to be a healthcare provider,” Smyser said. “But there are certain health-related services that schools must provide. We want to first off start out by getting a really good clarification of what those things are.

“What, by law,” she said, “are (schools) required to provide? And then we want to do an assessment on . . . how well we are doing at providing those services. Very much of the study would be on what training our people need.”

Smyser added, “We don’t, in any stretch of the imagination, want to treat (health clerks) as nurses and expect them to do nursing things. As much as everyone in the country would love to have a nurse in every school office, that doesn’t happen. But we don’t want non-nurses to be doing nurse functions.”

The assessment would also evaluate how well the school system communicates important information regarding the health needs of fragile children to the people who need to know it.

Smyser said she does not assume the results of the assessment will encourage state officials to provide more funding for health services.

“All school districts fund their nursing staff through their general fund,” she said.

Asked if the school district would provide more funding toward health needs if the assessment indicates more is needed, Smyser said the district doesn’t have any additional funds.

“Basically, we’ll be in a position to respond to the information from the study when we get it,” Smyser said. “We don’t have any money set aside for more nursing, but we do continue the training of all of our employees. If we need more training in a specific area, we can work that into our annual training.”

Depending on the results and the district’s response, the city of Calabasas might be able to help out financially, according to Maurer.

“A city’s No. 1 priority in services is community and public safety,” Maurer said. “If we learn that the students in Calabasas and elsewhere in the district could be safer and healthier, than I’m certain that the city would partner with the school district in helping that happen.”

Smyser hopes to begin the assessment in the next few weeks. The process, she said, should take about three or four months.

“The way I have it on my calendar is that we’ll have the results before the winter break,” Smyser said.

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