Less than half of the District's public charter schools employed a school nurse this year, leading to spotty tracking of students' allergies and inconsistent responses to injured students, school officials told The Washington Examiner.
"To me, it's like a ticking time bomb," said Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board.
Of the 103 charter school campuses in the District, only 34 have a full-time nurse provided to them by the city, as all schools in the traditional D.C. Public Schools system do. Nine other charter schools have part-time services, and four have hired a private nurse for whom they pay out of pocket. Two schools normally have a nurse, but the positions are vacant.
That leaves 56 campuses without a nurse.
When a student enrolls who needs regular medication, such as insulin for diabetes, the school ensures that a staff member is trained to administer it. And when there's an emergency, the schools know to call 911. But without a school nurse, no one is consistently reviewing students' health records for food allergies.
"If they're not reviewed correctly, there's a real possibility a school could serve peanuts not knowing there's an allergy," said Richard Fowler, an operations associate at the charter school board.
As for kids getting sick or injured, "When there's a Department of Health nurse in the facility, there's a protocol. Without that, they're sort of on their own when little Johnny has a stomachache or little Johnny falls off the monkey bars," Fowler said.
The main reason that the schools lack nurses, charter officials say, is their facilities. The city has extensive regulations for what a "nurse suite" must provide: electrical outlets every 6 feet; a waiting area with four chairs for every 300 students; a rest area with "adjustable overhead lights"; and 26 other regulations. The idea is to provide a safe and positive environment for students needing medical attention.
Unlike DCPS, charter schools are on their own to find school buildings. It's not uncommon, then, for charter schools to operate out of storefronts, church basements or other unorthodox spaces.
Dr. Saul Levin, interim director of the D.C. Department of Health, said he was aware of the situation and would meet with the charter school board to discuss possible flexibility in the city's code. But he cautioned that the city set specific standards like an in-room sink for a reason.
"If a nurse is going to examine three boys, the first one with possibly an infectious disease, she can't be in a basement and have to go upstairs to a water basin to wash her hands," Levin said. "There are some bottom-line criteria."