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Schools Urged To Raise Profile of Health Education

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Atlanta--Schools should bolster their health-education programs and play a more active role in ensuring that students' health-care needs are met, according to educators, public-health officials, and children's advocates who attended an unusual joint meeting here.

The conference May 31 to June 2 was believed by its organizers to be the first multidisciplinary national gathering on comprehensive school-health programs.

The sponsors included the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Conference-goers said that schools have traditionally placed a low priority on health education, noting that it typically is taught a couple of hours a week at the elementary level and is limited to a semester or two of study in high school.

"We know that the state-of-the-art treatment for cervical cancer is the state of practice 90 percent of the time," said John R. Seffrin, chairman of the department of applied-health services at Indiana University. "What is state of the art for health education is rarely the state of practice."

Some participants criticized the U.S. Education Department for not doing more to promote health education. Under legislation adopted by the Congress last year, the depart8ment is allowed, though not required, to create an office of health education. The department has not yet created such an office.

Debate on School-Based Care

Although conference-goers shared a consensus that schools must do more to help students receive needed health care, they differed on whether schools themselves should provide such services on a large scale.

Some said that more school-based services were necessary because adolescents may face barriers, such as a lack of money, insurance, or transportation, that prevent them from seeking such help elsewhere.

"I can't refer one of my kids to Planned Parenthood," said Beverly Farquhar, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses. "What is she going to do, ask her mother for a ride?"

But opponents of a greater emphasis on school-based care argued that full-service school clinics duplicate services already offered in many communities. More attention, they said, should be focused on providing referrals to community facilities.

Officials of the ama and nasbe said the two groups would announce the formation of a commission on comprehensive school-based health programs this month. The suggestions made during the four group discussions held here will be incorporated into the commission's final report, which is scheduled to be completed next spring.--ef

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