Thousands of District public school children have not received hearing and vision tests required under a program that the school turned over to the Department of Human Resources five years ago with $200,000 in initial funding.
DHR spent most of the money to buy two expensive, specially equipped testing vans, but never used them because it had no drivers.
The vans, parked at D.C. General Hospital since January, 1975, were publicized during Senate investigations of DHR's alleged vehicle mismanagement last September. Since lease the vans to a private day-care operation or to give them to the school board.
The department has now decided to sell the vehicles at auction because it has no staff to operate them, acting DHR director Albert P. Russo said Wednesday.
School Supt. Vincent Reed said his department refused the vans because "we don't have the money or the personnel to operate them.
"We didn't tell them to buy the vans," Reed said. "We had nothing to do with the vans. If they want to give us something, why don't they give us the money back?"
Reed also pointed out that the $200,000 grant to DHR included funding for five staff persons to perform the test. "I don't understand what happened to that money," he said.
Russo said the cost of buying the vans and equipping them exceeded the estimates of the grant. Even if DHR had the money to fill those five positions, they would be prohibited under the D.C! personnel ceiling, he said.
Russo said he "deeply regrets that the vans, which cost over $61,000 each cannot be used. They will be turned over to the Department of General Services for disposal, he said.
DGS director Sam Starobin said he expects some difficulty in selling the "highly specialized" vehicles and does not expect to get anywhere near what they cost.
Although DHR has continued the annual screening of some children, using portable testing equipment, both DHR and school officials knowledge that many children have been left out. Neither department has information on how many children were not tested, the officials said. There are currently about 68,500 children in the city's elementary school.
DHR was charged with screening the first, third, fifth and seventh grades in public schools annually, under the 1972 program.
School board member Elizabeth C. Kane estimates, however, that "probably at least a third of them got no screening" according to a recent spot survey she conducted. Among children who were tested, about half were examined by volunteer agencies, Kane said.
DHR had planned to have the program's screening specialists drive the vehicles, but those employees "turned out to be female" and wrote unable to do so. DHR's health and hospital administrator Dr. William J. Washington Jr. said.
Metrobus gave the screening employees driver training, but one of them failed a license examination and another was too "nervous" to drive the vans. DHR youth project director Ischild Swoboda said last September.
The hearing and vision tests are essential to identify children who have handicaps requiring special education. DHR also agreed, upon taking over the program, to begin screening all children entering public schools, but no preschool children have been tested, according to Kane.
"We have a tremendous inadequacy in the nursing service that DHR provides" to all school children. Kane said, "When we transferred the program to DHR in 1969, these schools had full-time coverage."
Washington said he has had to shift school health aides around, giving some schools coverage only one day a week, because of staff shortages.
As a result, DHR is often incapable of handling problems such as head lice infection and accidents on playgrounds or assuring medical coverage in vocational high schools where chemicals and other potentially dangerous teaching materials are used, Kane said.
Kane said she learned in her investigation that 36 of the District's 132 elementary schools had no nursing coverage in the 1974 school year "and the situation has gotten worse." DHR's school health services budget in fiscal 1974 was $2.6 million, and has gone down to $2.1 million this year, Kane said. "That is quite a loss with the increases in salaries and the fact that we have added new schools," she said.
One reason for transferring school health services and the sensory testing programs to DHR was to provide follow-up medical care in DHR health clinics, but often the corrective surgery, eye glasses or hearing aids are not provided if a child has been tested and found to need them, Kane said.
"The best way (to alleviate the problem) would be for the freeze (on city hiring) to be lifted and adequate resources made available," Washington said.