Pelham’s school nurses urged the Board of Education not to cut their jobs on Monday night, even though such a plan could save about $140,000.
While one of the tightest budgets in recent history, the Board of Education proposed slashing the number of full-time nurses. The most viable staffing option suggested, seemed to be employing full-time nurses at the middle and high schools and part-time nurses at the five other schools in the district. However, school nurses and parents beseeched the board to consider how these cuts could affect the students’ health and well being.
“Our unit is really taking the burden of the cuts and it’s out of proportion,” remarked Virginia Manganiello, who’s worked at for 15 years. “We have small children who can’t verbalize what’s wrong. You have a kid with bloody nose, who’s going to deal with that. Are you going to call EMS?”
Parents present at the meeting expressed equal concern at the prospect of decreasing the nurses’ hours.
Warren Banholzer, a parent of two 6-year-olds at Colonial, is particularly worried, since one of his sons suffers from asthma.
“One of my boys has asthma and Denise McCarthy has administered his albuterol several times,” Banholzer said. “You have to recognize how important it is that he get the medicine he needs.”
Banholzer, and other parents, agreed that it’s not just the medicated students who will be at risk. The nurses are often the most apt judge to discern whether a child should stick out a stomachache, or go home to recuperate.
“I think it’s important that we understand how many students would be sent home if the nurse weren’t there to keep them at school,” Banholzer said.
Nurse McCarthy echoed this sentiment with the example of how she coaxed a crying child to return to class on Monday morning, after spending about an hour comforting her.
“She ended up having a wonderful day,” McCarthy noted.
Rosemary Matthews, assistant superintendant, concurred that nurses are in the best position to make such calls.
“Students are sent home more often if a nurse isn’t available. Office staff may be more quick to call a parent,” Matthews noted. “We can’t have this fall on school secretaries or principals. That’s not their role.”
Board members were receptive to the comments made and recognized the need to evaluate the nurses’ roles before determining how many, if any, will be cut. Matthews said that she intends to interview each nurse to find out what their day-to-day routines entail.
What board members, and those who attended the meeting, couldn’t deny was how the job of a school nurse has evolved—and become more integral—in recent years.
“I don’t remember going to the nurse growing up. If you went to the nurse, you were called names,” said Dr. Mike Prisco, a parent of three at . “Things have changed. The nurse is the only one that can administer drugs.”
To bolster Prisco’s point, Matthews rattled off a whole host of duties the nurses are obligated to perform. Among their many tasks, nurses are expected to review health appraisals and sports physicals, perform vision, hearing, obesity and scoliosis screenings, review immunizations and manage students with diabetes.
“It’s not all about Band-Aids,” Matthews said.
Though Katharine Page no longer has children enrolled in the school district, she came to support the cause, something she also did back in 2003 when she petitioned for Colonial and Prospect to each get its own nurse.
“We’re worried about cutting a sport,” Page admonished, “but not compromising the health and well being of students.”
Board members attempted to assuage the attendees' concerns.
“The concept of risking health and safety is not going happen,” said board member Douglas Hearle. “We’re going find solutions here. It’s trying to find a middle ground that we can live with.”