Letters to the Editor: Mixed Reactions to Di Salvo Column

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.

Josh Pechthalt

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.

Connie Green

Founder, SF Bay Area Food Allergy Network

11 Comments

  1. Shameful that we don’t have at least an EMT on every campus. Recently, at my son’s school, a girl fell from the play structure and got a concussion. Having an EMT immediatly on hand would have helped her. As it is, the yard duty helpers are told never to touch the children, so the girl just sat there, unassisted until the ambulance arrived. I saw a little girl fall and hurt her knee, and she was crying and crying, and the teacher just told her she was okay and to get back up. At least an EMT can take a look, make sure it’s just a scrape and not something broken, and clean it to make sure it doesn’t get infected. We criticize schools for banning tag and chase and dodgeball, but they have NO medical assistance if there are injuries. My kids have come home with pretty significant scrapes that were left untreated. My cousin had a scrape that went untreated and ended up in the hospital on IV antibiotics that made him lose his hearing to save his life, so it’s not a joke. There are a LOT of trained EMTs out there that could use the work.

    • ” My cousin had a scrape that went untreated.” Huh? You mean they kept him at the school for several days without treatment. Infections don’t happen in a few minutes. What about his parents? Did they not treat him either when he came home?
      It’s a wonder that any of us over 55 survived school, particularly Catholic schools, which never had nurses on site when I was going to school.

  2. > Shameful that we don’t have at least an EMT on every campus. Recently, at my son’s school, a girl fell from the play structure and got a concussion. Having an EMT immediatly on hand would have helped her.

    Why just an EMT. Why not a helicopter pad? Why not a helicopter pad with a helicopter, with engines turning, ready for immediate medical evacuation?

    But, why even move the patient? Why not a hospital on every campus? But what if it’s just a tiny small town hospital without high tech stuff like CAT scanners and NMR? Why not a GREAT hospital on every campus?

    But, a great hospital is not great unless it has great doctors. Why not have a great hospital with a great medical school with a great faculty on every campus?

    I’m sure that this would prevent any knee scrape from turning into a debilitating, life threatening infection.

    After all, it’s for the children and we can’t be too careful in protecting the health of our children.

    Costs be damned. Besides, it should all be covered by Obamacare.

  3. We absolutely need EpiPens in schools. It is mind blowing to consider otherwise. First of all it provides coverage to Anyone who has a sudden life threatening allergic reaction at school. 25% of 1st time allergy attacks happen AT SCHOOL. This means those kids (or teachers) do NOT have a prescription of their own. You need to administer within 10 minutes to be effective so waiting for an ambulance (which may or may not even have an epipen on board depending on which one comes) is not safe. Without these stock EpiPens in schools, adults in those schools, if faced with a child having anaphylaxis will have to chose between having a child die or breaking the law and using another student’s prescribed EpiPen. THAT is the true story here. Palo Alto adopted stock EpiPens before it became law. They know this is a SAFE life-saving medication that will one day be stocked on airplanes, restaurants etc – just like defibrillators. Do not be fooled- we NEED these in our schools. 1/10 kids has a food allergy today-And the teachers are on the front lines. EVERY teacher I have ever talked to tell me that they will use another students epipen to save someone – and knows they would have to break the law. They are MAD about being put in that situation and think it is about time that stop EpiPens were in ALL schools. They are free from the manufacturer! Lastly, it certainly does NOT take a trained nurse to administer this. I know 8 year olds who have administered them in an emergency situation on themselves and I know that my kids could as well. Let’s not let this topic get muddled up with the politics at the state level and the Nurses Union wanting more nurses. Do NOT use our children’s safety as bargaining chip. Shame on you Mr DiSalvo.

  4. Many other states have similar stock epinephrine laws in place. Why? Because children have died in other states as a result of a food allergy reaction at school. Stock epinephrine will save lives.

  5. Having an epi-pen available in schools should be like having a first-aid kit. It is wonderful to see that a law has been passed to protect ALL children in the event of an allergic reaction. Learning how to use it is actually simpler than most first aid procedures. It is great to see so many teachers volunteering to learn to use an epi-pen and to recognize allergy symptoms that could possibly be life threatening! The training and knowledge that they receive does not in any way take away their time or attention to academic achievement.

  6. Mr. DiSalvo’s opinion is detached from reality: there is at least one severely allergic child in EVERY class. We can think of nothing more distracting in a classroom than for a teacher to realize that there is no emergency response available on hand if one of his/her students experienced a life-threatening reaction.

    To ensure our children’s safety in light of the prevalence of severe food allergies and thanks to the competence of our teachers, the most readily implemented approach is having stock epinephrine available. This would most certainly save lives. How Mr. DiSalvo could argue against that is beyond us.