By DAN DEARTH
6:31 PM EDT, June 7, 2012
Several parents with children who attend county public schools said they were outraged Thursday when they learned that the Washington County Health Department had begun issuing layoff notices to school nurses and their assistants.
Melanie Gatrell said she and her son, Wyatt, were at the pool at Martin “Marty” L. Snook Memorial Park in Halfway when Wyatt’s school nurse called to break the news.
“I was ready to cry,” Gatrell said. “I was so upset. It was like he was being discriminated against because he has a disability.”
Wyatt, a third-grader at Lincolnshire Elementary School, has Type-I diabetes, and is insulin dependent and suffers from seizures, Gatrell said. Last week, his glucose level dropped to 26, and the school had to call an ambulance.
Gatrell said Wyatt needs a nurse to administer shots if his glucose level reaches dangerous levels.
“He needs to have a nurse or he can’t attend public schools,” Gatrell said. “He can’t attend school unless he has one .... It could be a life-or-death situation.”
The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 5-0 to approve a fiscal 2012-13 budget that includes elimination of $3.3 million from a program that provides nurses and other health care professionals to Washington County Public Schools.
The commissioners diverted that money to pay for teacher pensions, which now must be shared between the state and local jurisdictions under a new Maryland budget law passed this year.
Washington County Board of Education President Wayne Ridenour said Thursday that the school system will have a nursing program in place for the start of the next school year, Smithsburg resident Mark Barnhart, whose first-grade son, Adam, has Type-I diabetes, said he believed the county commissioners made a mistake choosing to fund the pensions instead of the health care workers.
“All Washington County parents should be outraged,” Barnhart said.
He said he was concerned that Adam’s organs could be damaged if his glucose drops too low or soars too high because of the absence of a health care professional.
“He’s 6 years old,” Barnhart said. “He doesn’t know when something is wrong.”
Barnhart said he and his wife, Amy, work during the day and relied on a certified nursing assistant at Adam’s school last year to check his blood-sugar levels.
“I don’t know how we’re going to handle it,” Barnhart said. “One of us is going to have to quit their job.”
He suggested that the county commissioners reconsider their decision and hold a forum to get the public’s input.
Hagerstown resident Sandy Ellis said three of her seven children will need medical assistance when school starts again in the fall.
She said she was particularly concerned about one of her sons who suffers from seizures and severe migraines.
“I’m terrified to send my children to school,” Ellis said. “How are teachers supposed to deal with this when they had 15 or 20 kids in the classroom?”
She said she was appalled by the county commissioners’ decision to cut the funding.
“He could be outside playing and just have a seizure,” Ellis said. “I’m not going to send my kids to school every day and wonder if he’s still breathing because there’s not a nurse there.”
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