Tuesday’s school meeting to discuss fate of health clerk positions

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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While school district representatives say all health clerk duties will continue if those positions are eliminated, not everyone sees it that way. The Western Placer Unified School District must make $5.75 million in reductions for next year’s budget, according to previous News Messenger reports. During the Feb. 7 school board meeting, district staff presented a list of budget cuts to the board. On that list is eliminating health clerk positions. That elimination could save the district $130,000, according to previous News Messenger reports. The school board will vote at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Lincoln High School theater on the proposed budget reductions. School board meetings are open to the public. Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman said a health clerk is currently at each of the district’s 10 school sites. “They work a range of hours and most work 3 ½ hours a day,” Leaman said. “The health clerk comes on mid-morning and then stays until after lunch. In the afternoon, if there is a need, the clerk and secretary fill in.” The salary range for a health clerk is between $14.42 and $17.45 an hour, according to the district’s website. Leaman wanted to “specify that the health clerk duties will still happen.” “We have two district nurses and, as we look at who would need to perform some of those duties, the ad-hoc duties the clerk and secretary would be taking over,” Leaman said. “They (clerks and secretaries) are first-aid certified.” Ad-hoc duties would be situations where first aid would be administered to a student, according to Leaman, which is something secretaries and clerks already do during the hours a health clerk is not at school. Health clerks take care of routine medical needs, such as giving medications to students who need them, according to Leaman. Medications are kept locked up in the office, he said. “In the model we had in the past, we did have clerks and secretaries taking care of those things,” Leaman said. “During the times outside the times the health clerks are on campus, secretaries and clerks are taking care of that need. Currently, we have school staff that administers the medication properly, whether it’s a health clerk, secretary or clerk.” Leaman said the district would be “making sure that plan is a workable plan” before Tuesday’s school board meeting. “We are trying to maintain and make sure that our staffing levels are similar to the schools around us so that’s definitely something we are looking into,” Leaman said. According to Linda Davis-Alldritt, the California Department of Education’s school nurse consultant, “there is no specific law that says a school district has to have a school nurse or health clerk.” “I think it’s important to remember that health and education are very much linked. The role of school nurses is to keep the children healthy, in school, and ready to learn,” Davis-Alldritt said. “That’s been the case for school nurses since they first came into this country in 1902.” The health clerks The News Messenger spoke with say they are kept busy for the 3 ½ hours they’re on campus. “My office is very busy. On a daily basis, the health office probably sees 15 to 20 kids and it can be something serious, such as an asthma or bee stings,” said Lori Deschamps, Twelve Bridges Elementary School’s health clerk. “We have so many kids with allergies, and have to know what kind of allergies they have. I think that’s where nurses depend on us, with their workload.” Deschamps described some of the tasks she does on a daily basis, which includes dispersing medication, administering first aid and helping children who have had accidents by calling their parents or changing their clothes. “For every child that comes in, we document what they came in for, even if it’s just for a band aid so we do a lot of documentation,” Deschamps said. “We have to keep record of when it (medication) was given, how much was given, and account for every pill.” Health clerks also “keep the health plans up to date,” Deschamps said. “So any child that has a health issue, like allergies, asthma or seizures, we have to keep all of those files up to date,” Deschamps said. “On top of that, we are in charge of vision testing, hearing testing and color-blind testing for first-grade boys.” To Deschamps, the liability of not having health clerks on campus “is huge.” “If you mess up a pill, it could be life-threatening,” Deschamps said. “We owe it to these parents that when they drop their kids off, they know their kids are safe.” With 700 students on campus at Twelve Bridges Elementary School, Deschamps said the secretaries and clerks are “overwhelmed.” “I think the office staff is capable of doing it (health clerk duties),” Deschamps said. “They are overwhelmed and our schools are busy.” Marcie Petersen, who serves as both health clerk and attendance clerk at Carlin C. Coppin Elementary, said that school secretaries and clerks “don’t have time to do all of the reports and everything that the health clerk does.” “It’s not just putting on a band aid. There’s report we have to file to the state,” Petersen said. “Most people don’t realize. They think health clerk and they think band aids. It’s more than that.” Petersen said she performs first-aid duties, such as “cleaning ‘owies’ and giving ice (for injuries),” and that without health clerks, “there will not be anyone here to take care of them (students).” “I just want parents of kids who don’t have (medical) issues to realize how important it (having health clerks) is,” Petersen said. A parent of a Twelve Bridges Middle School special-needs eighth-grader, Melissa Frye said it’s important for her daughter “to see a familiar face when she is going to get her medication.” “The health clerk is very familiar with Taylor and knows just how to talk to her,” Frye said. Frye said she hopes the district will “find the cut somewhere else.” “I just think the kids really need that,” Frye said. “They see the people in the office but (office staff) are not necessarily able to recognize signs in children of illness and psychological issues.”