The following is an expanded version of the letter I sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday:
The San Francisco Chronicle published an article today by Bob Egelko, “Obama Administration steps into insulin shot fight,” about whether California can force teachers to inject the state’s 14,000 diabetic students. Egelko got the got the basics right: teachers are unqualified to provide injections, while nurses, who are qualified, have been so significantly downsized that half of California’s school districts no longer have them. However, the Justice Department’s assertion that non-nurses should be allowed to give shots is absurd and shows great disregard for the safety of students.
Furthermore, Egelko’s claim that educators support non-nurses giving injections is simply not true. As a teacher and a union organizer I know my colleagues are opposed. Teachers lack the experience and skill of nurses, as well as the time and environment to safely give injections. While giving shots, teachers are still responsible for 30-40 other students, in contrast to nurses, who can give injections in their offices, without other students present. Needles are potentially dangerous instruments. Distractions can lead to accidents or compromise the safety of other students, including the transmission of HIV or hepatitis.
Allowing non-nurses to give injections discourages school districts from hiring more nurses. This can undermine student achievement, as nurses provide routine healthcare that helps keep uninsured children in class. Lack of insurance can increase absences by up to 40%, according to education researcher Richard Rothstein, exacerbating the risk of failure. In a study of Baltimore school children, high school drop-outs averaged 27.6 absences per year, while graduates averaged only 11.8.
The solution is obvious: restore K-12 funding. With $18 billion cut over the last three years in California, it is not surprising that schools have cut nurses (as well as librarians, counselors, teachers and services). Unfortunately, this option is off the table, as the ruling elite would rather risk the safety of other people’s children than accept even a modest tax increase. With over 600,000 millionaires and 80 billionaires, a 1-2% income tax increase just on California’s rich, (and another 1-2% increase on their capital gains), could bring in billions of much needed revenue.