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Too many priorities

I finally got around to getting Little Miss in for her well-child checkup, although at 14 she’s not really a child. It’s probably time to switch to a family doctor for her, but eh, we like her pediatrician, even if she is a bit skittish. Has anyone met a non-afraid pediatrician? I’m pretty sure she would be happy if my kids were in booster seats until 12 and bubble wrap until 20.

Anyway, while we were there, I asked for forms for my other kids for the mandatory state health screenings required because they take enrichment classes one day a week at the same private school where Little Miss take orchestra and biology.  The State of Texas requires “that all children enrolled for the first time in any public, private, parochial or denominational school in a Child and Family Protective Services (CFPS) child-care center or licensed day care home in Texas, or who meet certain grade criteria (specified below), must be screened or have a professional examination for possible vision and hearing problems.” There are also requirements for diabetes and scoliosis screenings for some students, which also includes some or all of my kids depending on the kid.

There is no opt out.  There is no “we see a doctor regularly, thank you” box to check or “Mind your own dang business” form. There is, however, a helpful company that will come do the screenings at your school for a fee. It’s not really a high fee, but with three kids it adds up. (Four if you add the oldest, whom I don’t think needs it, but the school thinks otherwise. I’m still researching. Anyway, I got the info from her regular doctor on the chance I do need it.)

For me, this is a minor annoyance, a superfluous buns* situation. Frankly, all the “extras” piling up is like being pecked to death by baby ducks. I feel like cooking the darling ducklings.

But it really comes down to that fact that my kids’ health is my responsibility. I make sure they have a healthy diet, plenty of physical activity, and a healthy environment. I take them for annual checkups, etc. And frankly, I don’t see how enrolling them in a private school makes any of that the state’s business to monitor and record. I will grant that in true public health situations like communicable diseases, the state has a valid interest. I have no issue with school kids being required to be vaccinated before they congregate, the little germ spreaders. But I don’t see why the state needs to insert its nose into every area of life of every student in the state.

The more I think about it, the more I’m a bit irked for the individual public schools and their superfluous buns situations. Schools have already been pressed into being more than just places of education, from feeding hungry kids to being the engines for the social issue of the day (Just Say No, Earth Day/Hour/Decade, etc.)  It’s no secret teachers do more than just teach reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The person who spends 8 hours a day with a child (or 5 hours a week) is going to have a voice about more than the kid’s knowledge base. They’ll speak into their lives, help shape their character, and potentially be the ones to spot problems and help find solutions. By law, teachers are mandatory reporters, and must report suspected abuse. And they do all that while dealing with an often frustrating bureaucracy and sometimes without the support of parents.  (See? I’m really not anti-teacher; we just chose a different educational model for our family!)
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This is just one more way schools have been subjected to “mission creep.” The state can mandate that all kids get screened, and private schools and daycare centers will pass that on to the students. Public schools don’t do that; they just add another responsibility to the nursing staff, add one more thing for the teachers to make time for, and add one more “priority” to an ever growing list. When everything’s a priority, nothing is.

I suspect the majority of families are in the same boat we are. They take their kids for annual check-ups where their doctors do all those screenings, probably more thoroughly, and with an eye to their history and growth. It’s a job the school isn’t designed to do, and frankly not everything about their students should fall under their purview. Are there some families for whom this screening provides a real service? Maybe. I’d like to see some actual evidence that these screenings lead to something actually beneficial. But even if there is a need for certain populations, surely there is a way to serve low-income or at-risk kids without this all or nothing, mandated from on high to all people, everywhere approach. Wouldn’t it be better to use scarce resources where they’re actually needed instead of a shotgun-like approach? There was an attempt to ditch the scoliosis screening or at least make it optional for school districts, but Perry vetoed it. I understand his reasoning, but I don’t agree with it. I don’t think the only way we serve those in need is to make public schools provide screening for everyone.  In fact, that probably hurts those who need it because it becomes a perfunctory task to check off, rather than a necessary intervention.

We ask schools to do a lot, but we ought to only ask them to do the things they are designed to do. Let’s give them a break and take out some superfluous buns.


*I stole this metaphor from Ashley Sewell and her magnificent post on her superfluous buns. 

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