County education trustee and San Jose Inside columnist Joseph Di Salvo last week wrote an op-ed focusing on school nurse staffing levels and a recently passed state law on how to address allergic emergencies. Reactions to the piece and the topics it touched on were mixed. Below are two letters to the editor, the first from the California Federation of Teachers and the second from the SF Bay Area Food Allergy Network. Readers can continue the discussion in the comments section.—Editor
Re: California Schools Fail Students, Teachers with Nurse Shortage
We could not agree more with Joseph Di Salvo’s lamenting the lack of onsite school nurses in our K-12 public schools (“California Schools Fail Students, Teachers with Nurse Shortage”). The fact that there is only one nurse per 2,240 students is shameful and potentially tragic. That is why last year the CFT sponsored a bill titled “Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds” that would have put a full time nurse and mental health professional in every school while expanding school library hours. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee. With a rebounding economy and the state bringing in more revenue thanks in part to the overwhelming success of Proposition 30, we urge our lawmakers to keep in mind the physical and mental well-being of our students. As Di Salvo said, “a caring, wise society invests in the health of its youth.” Student health is a critical component of a healthy education system and nurses and mental health professionals in every school would be an important step in that direction.
President, California Federation of Teachers
A Different Perspective: California schools take necessary step towards preparing for food allergies and anaphylaxis
Joseph Di Salvo recently penned an op-ed regarding California schools failing students, in part due to a new law that allows schools to give first-aid medication during a severe allergic reaction. The law requires schools with a school nurse to stock emergency first-aid Epinephrine (EpiPen), and it also permits volunteer staff to be trained. Without volunteers, only the nurse may administer the medication.
Di Salvo implies that this new law is a slippery slope toward teachers taking the focus off of classroom education in order to provide health procedures, when he compared responding to a life-threatening emergency to monitoring students for the flu.
With an average of roughly two kids per class having a life-threatening food allergy, stocking an EpiPen and having trained volunteers are vital tools for school safety. We’re not talking about a tummy ache or rash—a severe allergic reaction can result in permanent disability or death. Severe allergic reactions can happen suddenly to anyone at any age, which is why approximately 25 percent of EpiPens used in schools are given to someone who has never previously had a reaction. Of those, 8 percent were for teachers.
In the past, schools in California have broken the law by using an individual’s EpiPen to save another student’s life. This new law provides schools with a first-aid medication needed to save lives, so they won’t have to choose between breaking the law and watching a student perish.
Di Salvo also presented an illogical argument in saying that a nurse in every school would mean only nurses would help in an allergic emergency. This is akin to saying only a school nurse should give First-Aid/CPR. An allergic emergency is just that; a life can be lost in as little as five minutes after contact with the allergen. It’s a good thing for teachers and administrative staff to volunteer to be trained to save a life, whether using CPR or EpiPen. In my experience, once teachers learn food allergy facts, many want to know how to respond if one of their kids has severe breathing problems.
Food allergies are very misunderstood, and volunteers are working to improve knowledge community-wide. I invite Mr. Di Salvo to contact me if he would like to learn about severe food allergies. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him to take this knowledge back to the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and to improve existing policies and procedures so all of our kids can be safer at school. His efforts will be truly appreciated by parents of children with diagnosed allergies, and more so by those parents whose children will have their first allergic reaction while at school.
Founder, SF Bay Area Food Allergy Network