In another suit that underlines the school district’s many issues — budgetary and otherwise — the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Its reason? The administering of medications by non-trained, non-certified and non-medical personnel to students enrolled in the school system.
The teachers union alleges that this sort of oversight and understaffing will lead to a catastrophe, ending with a child becoming very sick — or worse — due to a child not receiving the proper medications, or taking medication meant for another student.
The PFT held a press conference Wednesday to announce the suit and bring light to this issue.
“The complaint is that we have many schools, every day, that do not have a nurse present to administer medications … employees such as principals, counselors and others are giving medicine to the children,” said PFT President Jerry T. Jordan, noting that the suit was very narrow in scope. “When you have someone not trained in medicine giving kids medications, you run the risk of the wrong child getting the wrong medicine. That creates a very dangerous situation for the children.”
Jordan said the district is in clear violation of the state mandate on administering medication in Pennsylvania public schools, specifically Section 13-1317 of the Public School Code.
“We believe this not only violates the Public School Code and state health and safety regulations, but puts vulnerable children’s health and safety in jeopardy,” Jordan said. “The potential for an untrained and unsupervised employee to make a life-threatening mistake is too serious a risk to be taken.”
The suit, filed with Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Eli Avila, states the district also violates the Guidelines for Pennsylvania Schools for Administration of Medications and Emergency Care.
“The [guidelines] are specific and provide that the task of administering medication in a school setting is a nursing function reserved to the Certified School Nurse,” Jordan said. “They may not be delegated.”
The suit also alleges that the district is in violation of the Nurse Practice Act, which generally forbids nurses from instructing non-nurses on the techniques of medication administration; further, PFT officials said nurses generally work at two different schools during a typical week, and that some work as many as six.
Philadelphia School District spokesman Fernando Gallard released a statement confirming the PFT’s action, and said the district will respond accordingly.
“The School District of Philadelphia will be reviewing the complaint filed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and will respond directly to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The District is prepared to answer any questions that may arise from the complaint,” Gallard said. “The District is confident that its long-standing practice and its protocols for administration of medication falls within the requirements of law, and fully addresses the medical needs and well-being of children within our schools.”
Jordan said that just last week, he had a nurse who had 52 kids that receive daily medications, and that the majority of schools in the system only have nurses for two days during the school week.
Conversely, that means for three days, someone other than the nurse is administering medications.
“It’s not a case of nurses being laid off; it’s a fact that they are, but there’s more to this,” Jordan said. “It’s about the children who require medication and there’s no one there to give it to them, and now you have a principal or counselor being told to give them medicine.
“These people have normal jobs to do,” Jordan continued. “You’re asking them to stop, remember when they are supposed to give the meds, go into wherever the meds are kept and then make sure they have the right meds for the right child. What’s to stop them from mixing up the medications?”
In records provided by the PFT, not only do several public schools have staff such as counselors and deans giving meds — many schools have everyone from community relations liaisons, secretaries and social workers to non-teaching aides and gym teachers medicating the students.
“What we don’t want to see is a child becoming sick or ill from getting the wrong medication; I would not want it to happen to my child,” Jordan said. “‘I’m sorry’ is not the proper response when the district knowingly violates these guidelines.”