Calvert County could soon have at least one “doctor’s office in a school” if a plan to establish school-based health centers pans out.
During last Thursday’s Calvert County Board of Education meeting, plans were unveiled to establish a pilot program for a health center located in a school or on a school campus. The facility would “provide onsite preventive and primary health services,” said Calvert County Health Officer Dr. Laurence Polsky.
In presenting the concept to the school board, Polsky stated that the “mini doctor’s office” may include several services, including mental health, oral health, and other ancillary and supportive services. Noting that school nurses are limited in the services they currently provide, Polsky stated the nurses would still be needed.
Currently, Maryland has over 80 school-based health centers, including 17 in Baltimore city, 13 each in Baltimore and Montgomery counties, 10 in Howard County and nine in Caroline County. None of the three Southern Maryland counties have school-based health centers.
“School-based health centers have proven effective in diagnosing and treating illness, managing chronic health conditions and increasing attendance,” said Polsky, who explained the pilot program for such facilities in Calvert should be located at a school in the southern end of the county, where residents have “the least access to primary health care.”
Funding the pilot program would come from a variety of sources, including federal, state and private grants; local public funding from county government and the BOE, as well as collections from billing insurance companies and collecting co-payments.
Polsky said the goal would be to make the program as self-sufficient as possible. “The goal is to minimize reliance on grants and local public funding,” said Polsky, adding, “you need to be able to bill for services.”
The services could include acute care for ailments such as strep throat, chronic care for conditions such as asthma or diabetes, sports physicals, vaccinations, and even reproductive health services at the high school level. Polsky elaborated on that component by noting that last year there were approximately 100 cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea among middle and high school students in Calvert County. Having treatment readily available would mean transmission of infections would be less likely.
The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission) is an advocate for school-based health centers, however, that support is currently limited to providing those centers funding in jurisdictions where 55 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced meals, according to Polsky. Calvert is Maryland’s only jurisdiction that would not qualify. Polsky expressed hope that the commission would reconsider that stance so that Calvert would become eligible for additional funding.
Board member Tracy McGuire asked, “how would we know if the pilot was successful?” Polsky said tracking data to determine the impact the center is having on a school and surrounding community is likely to be the strategy.
One example would be the impact on student attendance figures.
Board Vice President Bill Phelan asked if it was possible to start the pilot program during the upcoming school year. Polsky said the hope is to have the pilot program underway during the 2020-2021 school year.
“My hope would be the grant funding would initially allow us to pilot this for two years,” he said.
Polsky said the school-based facility could also become “a true family health center” by opening it up during a few hours after school to members of the community.
In addition to applying for start-up grant funding, appraisal of the physical space at each school housing a health center would be done to ensure compliance with the Maryland State Department of Education.
The BOE gave Polsky and school administrators the green light on moving the concept plan forward.
2020-21 calendar mulled According to Procurement and Resource Management Director Kevin Michael told the board the proposed school year calendar for 2020-2021 that his committee presented in June received numerous comments from the public. Some of the comments received advocated for a slightly longer spring break and building snow days into the calendar.
The proposed calendar has the school year starting Tuesday, Sept. 1, with the following Monday a day off Labor Day. The spring recess is scheduled for April 1 through 6.
“We have to look at the calendar from an instructional standpoint,” said board member Pamela Cousins, who did add she would support adding one more day to spring recess provided the class schedule is not extended beyond June 11.
Noting the “barrage of public input this year,” BOE President Dawn Balinski said it might be a good idea for decision-makers to provide explanations to scheduling components. Noting the popularity of family travel and activity during spring break and trips of recesses gone-by, Superintendent of Schools Daniel Curry stated, “for some folks, it’s more heartfelt than strategic.”
Phalen summed it up another way. “One thing there is not is the universal liking of a calendar,” he said.
Michael told the board the committee will revisit the spring recess plan for 2020-2021.