In previous years Spokane Public Schools has been lenient in enforcing its health requirements for students with asthma, but is changing that this summer.
Students must have an asthma care plan and medication orders on file and provide an inhaler to the school before the first day of classes or they will not be allowed to attend, said Health Services Director Rebecca Doughty. Older students who can use an inhaler on their own can carry the inhaler with them instead with approval from a parent and their doctor, Doughty said.
The requirements have been in place for years but haven’t been enforced well, Doughty said. “We do it with immunizations,” she said. “It’s not new.”
Letters went out to parents of children with asthma in March to let them know about the enforcement of the rules, Doughty said. What the district is discovering is that some of the children marked as having asthma don’t actually have it, but were simply prescribed an inhaler once for treatment of bronchitis. Parents of those children simply have to submit an updated health form indicating the child does not have asthma, Doughty said.
“We had lots of kids that had asthma checked, but only a fraction of them had health care plans,” she said.
The strict rules are also in place for students who have epilepsy, diabetes or an allergy that requires an epi pen. All are considered life-threatening health issues.
“We’ve been enforcing those for a long time,” she said. “We have really kind of standardized our health care plans.”
Like those conditions, asthma can be life threatening even if the student generally has a mild reaction.
“The truth is, we don’t know,” Doughty said. “A child who has mild to moderate asthma can still die in an asthma attack. We don’t want a student in our health room who can’t breathe and we have no way to treat them.”
Having a health care plan and readily available medication is important because only a few schools in the district have a full-time nurse, Doughty said.
The district will hold three asthma information sessions for parents this month. Parents can fill out forms, turn in medication and ask questions at the events. The sessions will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Aug. 15 at North Central High School, Aug. 16 at Lewis and Clark High School and Aug. 17 at Rogers High School.
All asthma forms and medication should be submitted by Aug. 24. Students who previously had an asthma care plan and just need to submit an updated care plan, which is required every year, can do that on the first day of school. However, Doughty said she doesn’t recommend that.
A nurse has to sign each form, and process it and any medication turned in. “You’re looking at a wait,” she said. “It’s chaos. The earlier you do that, the better. It gives us more time to process that.”
More than 1,000 families were contacted about the need to update their student’s asthma care plan this spring and about 300 have already complied, Doughty said. Another letter will go in the mail soon and automated phone calls will also provide another reminder.
Having the correct medical information and medication on hand is important, Doughty said.
“It’s just a safety issue,” she said. “We’re following state law and our own policies.”