School health program in flux Howard County: System failed to work fast enough to replace permanent aides.

September 11, 1997

MANY PARENTS like to know the school nurse or health assistant who administers medication, bandages cuts, tends to fevers and is at least somewhat familiar with their children's medical conditions.

Unfortunately, it may take a while before parents of students at six Howard County schools can bond with the professional in charge of the health room. Temporary health aides are pitching in at six schools because policy-makers and administrators did not move quickly enough to replace permanent staff members before the school year began nearly three weeks ago.

Parents have expressed justifiable concern at these schools: Forest Ridge and Laurel Woods elementaries in North Laurel; Bollman Bridge Elementary in Jessup; Stephens Forest Elementary and Wilde Lake Middle in Columbia, and the Applications and Research Laboratory for technical magnet students in Ellicott City.

The glitch means those schools must staff their health rooms with equivalents of long-term substitute teachers while candidates for permanent jobs are being interviewed. Fortunately, no problems have arisen so far, but many parents at the six schools -- especially those whose children have special medical conditions -- are likely to remain concerned until permanent professionals are hired. It is a matter of comfort that only familiarity can bring.

The heat has been on administrators this summer to fill 13 health aide positions. Perhaps they could have speeded up the hiring process, but it is hard to lay on them too much blame. An unusually large number of health assistants retired or quit at the end of last year just as administrators were revising the system to provide student health care.

The school board didn't help. It held up implementation of the new system, which a committee devised over 18 months, because it did not approve the plan until late July. Officials had only a month to interview health assistant candidates and hire them for the new positions.

Many parents will remain outside a comfort zone until they get to know the health professional who will help their children through any medical problems that may arise during the school year.

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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