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Va. Coalition Seeks Upgraded Health-Care Training for Teachers

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Students with certain medical needs should have school nurses or trained teachers to care for them in the classroom, says a new coalition of school board members, teachers, and school nurses in Virginia.

The coalition wants the state to provide more money to cover the costs of serving children with medical conditions and to provide teachers the training necessary to deal with the increasing number of students who require special medical attention.

Teachers often are called upon to perform such tasks as administering insulin shots or catheterizations, David C. Blount, a lobbyist for the Virginia School Boards Association, said last month. "Teachers are now doing it by default," Mr. Blount said. "Some are willing; others aren't."

In one rural Virginia district this year, a teacher refused to give insulin injections to a diabetic student. The school board allows teachers to administer the shots. But the parents filed a complaint against the school system, saying that a qualified nurse should be assisting their child.

Mr. Blount said he would like to see the state adopt formal standards of school health practice and provide training for interested teachers.

More Nurses Needed

In the past several years, school nurses and teachers nationwide have been faced with limited financial resources and an increasing number of children suffering from chronic health problems. (See Education Week, May 15, 1996.)

Judy Castleman, a lobbyist for the Virginia Association of School Nurses, said that teachers in her state are often asked to double as nurses because too few schools hire trained medical personnel.

The state has one school nurse for every 5,000 students, according to a 1992 state survey.

The ratio is not unusual, experts say. Nursing shortages are the norm in school districts across the country as more children rely on school-based health services to meet their medical needs.

"Eventually a child is going to die if someone who is unlicensed makes a mistake," Ms. Castleman said. "We don't want to wait until that happens."

The coalition's leaders are drafting a bill over the summer to address their concerns. They hope to submit it when the legislature convenes in January.

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