City-funded nurses have been quietly pulled from dozens of parochial schools by the Bloomberg administration, and members of the City Council are trying to ratchet up the pressure to get them back.
“It’s a question of equity,” said Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, sponsor of a bill introduced last week that would require the city to make full-time registered nurses available at all private schools with more than 100 students. “It’s a question of making sure the health of all children in the city is protected.”
The Board of Jewish Education is working with the New York Archdiocese to reverse the recent move by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to scale back its provision of nurses. In 2000, during Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration, the DOH began placing nurses in private schools at an estimated cost of $5 million per year.
But in September the department announced it was scaling back the program because of the disparity between the number of students served at smaller private schools and larger public schools.
“The city was spending half as many resources per student on nursing services in public schools than in non-public schools,” said the department in an unsigned statement. “Given resource constraints, we cannot continue to provide a higher proportion of nursing services to non-public schools without jeopardizing services to public schools.”
But Rabbi Martin Schloss, the BJE’s director of school services, said that reducing the assignment of nurses on a per capita basis left some parochial schools with no nurse on premises.
“This is serious business,” he said. “There are children with asthma, allergic reactions … These are the lives of kids we’re talking about.” He added that many of the yeshivas cannot afford to hire nurses on their own.
While only a handful of yeshivas or Jewish day schools had received a city-funded nurse so far, the BJE had been hoping to expand the program to additional schools.
Councilman Michael McMahon of Staten Island, where the bulk of schools affected by the change are located (most of them Catholic schools) introduced the bill on Oct. 24, noting that there are some 250,000 children in non-public schools in New York.
“For a few million dollars, we can make sure the health and welfare of all children are maintained in this city,” said McMahon, like Felder a freshman Democrat.
Felder said he did not know, or care, where the funding from the program would come from at a time when the city is facing a $5 billion deficit. “That’s not our job,” he said.
Rabbi Joseph Gellman, principal of Masores Bais in Brooklyn, said the funding cut had left some 600 students at his girls’ yeshiva without an on-site nurse. “We need a nurse to maintain proper records and deal with children and families,” said the rabbi. “There are always children who get sick during the day. Why is a child attending yeshiva any different from a child attending public schools?”