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School clinic proposal opposed

November 03, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

A parent's impassioned plea against putting health clinics in schools did not deter the Washington County Board of Education from approving a grant application for the project Tuesday.

School Board President Edwin Hayes cast the only oppoing vote.

"My opinion is, we should not be in primary health care," he said Wednesday. A school should not act as a hospital, he said.

During a morning work session, Angela Harsh told the School Board that she believes school-based health clinics are wrong. She cited a 1996 case in which 58 sixth-grade girls were allegedly given genital exams in East Stroudsburg, Pa., without their parents' consent or knowledge.

"I've got a monumental problem with this," Harsh said. "You send your kids to school to be educated, not to be examined."

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She said the same services that would be offered in clinics are already available in the community.

The proposed clinics would offer limited services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling. Only children who have parental consent would be allowed to use them, according to Health Officer Robert Parker.

Harsh said Maryland law entitles minors to get medical treatment without parental knowledge. "How can you protect our children that it can never happen here?" she said.

She also criticized the measure, which Parker estimates may have annual operating costs of $200,000, as too expensive. "Who's going to pay for it? Trust me, we're going to get the bill," she said. "You want it? I don't. I can't afford any more taxes."

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said the School Board will make the final decision about what services will be offered in the proposed clinics. He said the planning grant only funds a study to make a more formal grant proposal.

"It's a grant to develop detailed plans," Parker explained.

The grant will hire a planner who will work with local agencies, service providers and the community to establish specific needs and operating procedures. He will also work to identify potential funding sources for the pilot program.

Parker proposed the school-based health centers to the School Board in February. He said student surveys show a need for more accessible care. The "wellness centers" are intended to make it easier for students to get help right on campus.

During a work session last month, board members agreed to support the initial grant application. They voted to support it Tuesday night. School Board President Edwin Hayes opposed it without saying why.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Theresa Flak assured Harsh that no one wants students to be subjected to exams they don't want. She asked Harsh if she has visited any of the clinics in other counties.

Harsh said she has not because the clinic operators would only tell her they are working well in the community. She said she would rather hear from people in the community about clinics, but she remains opposed to the idea.

"I'm not open-minded about this," she said.

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