Palm Beach Post | By Katherine Kokal | September 1, 2022
Students whose parents do not “opt in” to school medical services will not be given Band-Aids, ice packs or other minor medical care in several Florida counties — Palm Beach among them. The move is prompted by the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The law requires schools to notify parents of health-care services and give them the opportunity to consent to, or to decline them, among many other policies that are impacting life in the classroom this school year.
Parents “should have the sole right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their minor child,” the law says.
In response, several school districts have added an “opt-in” question to their annual student registration forms, which ask them to consent to services provided by the school nurse, such as first aid and health screening.
But while thousands of parents have opted out of medical services, some in fear of forced vaccinations, schools are seeing a large number of students who are automatically opted out because they have yet to return the consent form.
As of Aug. 31, more than 3,300 Palm Beach County parents had opted out of school medical care. And about 57,000 students have not returned the forms. About 167,000 students attend district-operated schools in Palm Beach County.
That’s creating headaches for parents who have not filled out the form and a flurry of uncertainty for school officials about what the law allows.
If a child doesn’t have a registration form on file, they cannot receive medical care and the nurse must call their parents to the school to pick them up. Parents cannot give consent to medical services over the phone.
If a child is having a medical emergency, staff will call 911.
“We’re not going to wait for a parent to come if your child is bleeding out,” Brevard County School Board member Katye Campbell said of her district’s plan to handle emergency care.
Several Florida counties require ‘opting in’ to medical services
Palm Beach County isn’t alone in the opt-in policy.
Volusia County schools in August sent a note home to parents explaining that they would have to opt in to medical services for minor care by school nurses.
Broward, Duval, Orange, Pinellas and Seminole County school districts all asked parents to opt in to medical services this year, according to forms listed on their respective websites.
Flagler County, just north of Daytona Beach, will also require parental consent for medical treatment, but instead of an opt-in form, it offers an opt-out form. Consent for medical services is implied unless parents submit a form declining them, according to the form posted Wednesday on the district’s website.
In Brevard County, Campbell’s district asks parents to opt in or opt out of the following services:
- Nursing assessments
- Health appraisals
- Provide Band-Aid(s)
- Provide ice pack(s)
- Check vitals
- Check temperature
- Check for lice
- Health counseling/teaching
The form created some confusion among parents’ groups on social media, with some parents wondering what “health counseling” or “nursing assessments” might entail.
Health counseling or teaching would typically apply to students with ongoing health challenges such as diabetes that require regular follow-ups, while a nursing assessment is a general evaluation of a student’s condition, Campbell said.
Does opting into health services mean vaccinations? School leaders say no
Keith Oswald, Palm Beach County schools’ chief of equity and wellness, said Thursday at a district committee meeting that school nurses are limited in their ability to treat headaches, minor scrapes and bruises if a child doesn’t have a consent form on file.
He said there’s been a misunderstanding over what the medical service opt-in question means.
“Some people are marking ‘no’ because they think we’re going to be providing vaccinations and do all these other things,” Oswald said. “Anything that would be serious, we would call EMS whether we have consent or not.”
Palm Beach County schools are not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students.
School nurses are being trained to look for a health services consent file for every student before giving any type of non-emergency care, said Robin Kish, director of media relations for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, which provides school nurses.
If a student doesn’t have the form on file, she said, the school staff must contact the parent to get written permission to treat a child before providing things like Band-Aids for minor cuts, ginger ale for upset stomachs or ice packs for headaches or body pains.
Oswald and others have pointed out issues with accessing the form. Parents who have limited internet access or printer access are less able to return the form, whether they are supportive of their children getting medical services or not.
“Typically, it’s in our more marginalized communities where we’re not getting those back,” he said, citing possible communication issues and language gaps.
The health services consent form can be downloaded from the Palm Beach County School District website and was sent home to parents before the start of school.
Florida Today reporter Bailey Gallion and Danielle Johnson of the Daytona Beach News-Journal contributed to this report.