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Queens school nurses hurt most by cuts

In announcing his 2011 Executive Budget on Thursday, May 6, Mayor Michael Bloomberg referred to the state’s ongoing budget woes, lamenting that New York City is “paying the price for Albany’s irresponsibility.”

Yet, in the wake of Bloomberg’s budget unveiling – which brought news of cuts to agencies ranging from the Department for the Aging to Youth and Community Development – victims like school nurses, and the parents and teachers who rely on them, are saying the price they’ll pay is too high.

Bloomberg’s $3.1 million in cuts to elementary school nurses will seemingly have the greatest impact on schools in Queens and Staten Island. This is due, in large part, to the fact that both boroughs are home to a high number of non-public schools whose enrollments commonly fall under the budget-mandated 300-student minimum for in-school emergency care.

The cost-cutting plan, which the city says will reduce on-site, non-emergency clinical coverage, affects an estimated 146 citywide public and non-public elementary schools. Forty-six of the impacted schools are in Queens, according to Judith Arroyo, president of Local 436, of the United Federation of Nurses and Epidemiologists.

Despite the city’s claims, Arroyo, whose members include 800 school health workers, said the affected schools would lose more than just emergency care. As public health specialists, school nurses monitor preventative health initiatives like immunizations and asthma and obesity management, the former school nurse told The Courier.

And she emphasized that the city needs no reminder that H1N1 cases were first identified in Queens, in a non-public school, by the school’s nurse. Non-public schools must comply with a city law stipulating that they provide a school nurse, Arroyo noted, adding that a revocation of funds for such nurses would cause unnecessary harm.

“Diseases don’t turn around and say, ‘Well, this is only a school of 100, so I’m going to go over here [instead],’” Arroyo said incredulously. “They [the Bloomberg Administration] are just looking at treatments,” she went on, “but we are more than just treatments.”

Speaking at College Point’s Holy Trinity Elementary School, one of the dozen schools in his district slated for the chopping block, City Councilmember Dan Halloran said the cuts will “drain resources from the classroom and potentially force teacher layoffs…”

The northeastern Queens lawmaker called the cuts “a classic piece of budgetary bait and switch.”

Schools with any special needs students would not be affected if the budget is approved, the Mayor’s office said. And any affected nurses would be re-deployed elsewhere in the city.

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