Heather Larson, a brown-haired seven-year-old from Bowie, has become the focal point in a struggle between the Prince George's County board of education and health department over which agency should provide health care for the county's students.
Handicapped from birth, Heather needs to be catherterized each day at school to remove liquid wastes from her body. For the two years she attended Holly Park Elementary, the procedure was done by a nurse's aide at the school.
But when she was transferred to the Catherine T. Reed Elementary School theis year, an attorney for the school board, acting on a request by the principal, ruled that the procedure can be performed only by Heather's mother or a registered nurse.
Mrs. Donald Larson, who has been driving 26 miles round trip each day from her home to the school in order to comply with the ruling, decided to find another remedy. After being bounced around from several persons within the school board and health department she finally wrote to several members of the county council about her problem.
After several minutes of handwringing over the Larson problem at the council meeting this week, the council ordered the health department to temporarily assign a public health nurse to perform the service. Since the department had already offered to this - for a fee of $18 a day - the council ordered that the service must be performed at no charge.
"But this is just the tip of the iceberg," said council member Samuel W. Bogley."How many more children in Prince George's County school need this? At $18 a shot, this is going to be an expensive proposition."
Bogley said the problem developed this year after the state ordered handicapped children integrated into the regular school system. Reed School, in addition to its regular curriculum, also provides special occupational, physical and speech therapy for its 57 handicapped students.
The school does not have a registered nurse on duty, however, because state law prohibits local school boards from hiring them, deferring health care to the county health offices, according to Bogley.
"The occupational therapist at the new school has offered to do it for us," said Mrs. Larson. "There are other children, one in a wheelchair, who also need this.
"The county council's decision (to provide temporary help) is fine," she continud, "but what happens six months from now, and what about the other children?"
"Federal regulations say it is not the function of the school to provide health services," said Bogley.
"But why then," countered council chairman William B. Amonett, "do we budget them (the school board) $1 million for health aides and the health department $400,000 for public health nurses?"
Dr. Donald K. Wallace, the county health officer, said he was "delighted the councel directed my office to provide this service. It is very important that the child get the services she needs to stay in school. But there are policy issues of some depth that have to be looked at. Who is going to pay for the iceberg when it is all revealed?"
The council has directed its aides to begin discussions with the school board in order to produce an overall policy regarding school health services.
"They say it's a legal problem," said Mrs. Larson, "not a people problem. It's a shame it has to come to this."
In other action, the council refused to discuss two controversial bills that would deal with the removal of a council member, saying they did not have enough time to take up the problem this year.
"Then why did Francois (council member Francis Francois) introduce the first bill to begin with?" asked council member Darlene Z. White, who presented her own version of a bill dealing with the issue a few weeks ago. "It looks like he did it only for the publicity," she said.
Francois introduced a bill calling for a charter amendment delineating causes for the removal of a council member in a move that some say was directed at White.
White was absent from council meetings and work sessions for several months this spring, due, she said, to illness. She said she offered her own bill in addition to Francois' because, "the reasons for removal were too vague, it had no teeth."
White said she would offer her bill, with some amendments, to the council again in January.