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Monday, February 27, 2012

Elimination of school nurse riles some Hollis parents

HOLLIS – School officials are defending a proposal to eliminate one of two school nurse positions at the Hollis Primary School next year.

“It was the best decision based on the data. The emotion was removed from the table,” said Hollis Primary School principal Liz Allen.

The proposal was made after the School Board directed the administration to take $80,000 from the proposed 2012-13 budget without giving pink slips to any of the 19 classroom teachers.

The proposed cut at the primary school has raised concerns among some parents, including several who criticized the decision earlier this month at a public hearing on the School District’s proposed budget.

“I don’t feel the preparedness level is the same without the (second) nurse,” said Tammy Fareed of Winding Valley Road, the parent of a second-grader who has nut allergies and other medical issues.

Officials at both the School Administrative Unit and the building level made the decision together.

The Primary School, which includes preschool through third grade, has had a second nurse for seven years, ever since the district opened its preschool.

At the time, administrators believed, though now admittedly wrongly, that approvals to run the preschool depended on adding a second school nurse.

Under state law, RSA 200:29, a school board “may” hire a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse to work in a school. But the law states a public school in New Hampshire is not required to have a nurse on staff.

Another section of the law allows a school board to appoint a “registered professional nurse who is currently licensed” in the state, or an LPN, who is supervised by a RN, said Ed Murdough, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Fletcher Lane resident Bernard Mizula, the parent of a kindergarten student and a first-grader, said he was “shocked” by the School District’s proposal.

Mizoula’s children have asthma.

“I know many other kids that have ailments,” he said. “I’m really upset that this nurse is going away.”

Mizula wants to reverse the School District’s decision, and he and others will have their chance during the annual School District Meeting next month.

“I’m just baffled that some folks think this is OK,” Mizula said.

Allen, the primary school principal, said when the second nurse was hired seven years ago, there were 407 children enrolled at the school.

The current census is 340, and enrollment is projected to decrease to 325 next year, she said.

There are currently 83 students in kindergarten and the preschool, and most of these children attend school for two to three hours daily, Allen said. She said 12 kindergarten children are at school all day.

“We don’t see this as a safety issue,” she said.

Allen said the Lower Elementary School employs 42 professional staff, including 19 classroom teachers.

If one nurse position is cut, classroom teachers would assume some of the nurse’s teaching duties, such as teaching personal hygiene, Allen said, adding that all classroom teachers are certified in Red Cross first aid.

While allergies, asthma and other health issues appear to be increasing among children in New Hampshire and nationwide, Allen continued, most children at the primary school are “very healthy.”

“Seventy percent of our population are very healthy and just see the nurse for minor issues,” Allen said. “Children with allergies and asthma are well-managed.”

At the same time, classroom teachers are also aware, and prepared to deal with emergencies, the principal said.

“When the students go on field trips, the asthma and allergy medications go with the teacher,” Allen said.

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24 or hbernstein@cabinet.com.