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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 08/15/2011

School health forms: Is the noble intent worth the hassle?

One of the top back-to-school nuisances has got to be the children’s health documentation. Most parents know that regular medical and dental check-ups are important for our children, but the process of collecting — and paying for — that proof is the subject of much grumbling.

The forms are a hassle everywhere, but particularly this year in the District, where school officials have increased the burden by asking parents to submit, among other things, a Universal Health Form that documents a physical completed within the previous 365 days for every child. Previously, those forms were needed every other year.

That is far more frequently than in other areas. In Virginia, for instance, proof of a physical is required of all students only when they register for the first time. (The rules for athletes are different.)

The change in the District is part of the much-lauded 2010 Healthy Schools Act, which is better known for its intention to usher more physical activity and nutritious meals into schools.

The requirement, which covers everyschool in the District, has virtually doubled the number of parents scrambling to get their child’s forms together. In turn, that’s overloading pediatricians’ offices.

“Oh God, we’re doing 60 a day. It’s out of hand this year,” a front office staffer in a popular city pediatrician’s office told me. “We’re telling people that it’ll be a two-week turnaround.”

The longer wait times are bad news for parents since most of us (it can’t just be me, right?) have only now realized that summer is coming to a close. D.C. public school begins in just a week, Aug. 22.

“Parents throughout the District go crazy, every year, because of these forms. If there are a bunch of students kicked out of school every year for lack of vaccinations, perhaps the problem is not the vaccinations themselves but the burden of getting all those forms filled out,” parent Beth Kevles wrote to my colleague, Post schools reporter Bill Turque. Every year.

That’s a very real sentiment among many parents. At the same time, there is a very real health crisis in the city when it comes to obesity, asthmas and sexually transmitted diseases.

“It’s good for them. It’s good for their kids,” said D.C. public schools spokesman Frederick Lewis of annual checkups.

Lewis said children without their proper paperwork will not be turned away from school. Instead, the school nurse will work with the parents to help them get their child a physical.

Ironically, part of the reason former mayor Adrian M. Fenty proposed the change that eventually became part of the Healthy Schools Act was to give parents more flexibility. The previous requirements asked for the Universal Health Form every other year, but the physical had to be done within the previous 150 days.

In reforming the rules, Fenty and the Health Committee decided to also apply the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendation that youths get annual physicals until age 21, said Brendan Williams-Kief, spokesman for D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the Health Committee.

It makes sense that officials want to ensure the city’s children are receiving regular medical care. But is annual documentation the best way? Will it, in fact, mitigate the city’s health problems? Is the noble intent worth the universal expense and hassle?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 08/15/2011

 
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