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Option Of School-Based Health Center In Mamaroneck Widens Public Debate

Maggie Clouet, nurse coordinator at Mamaroneck schools, described task force findings Tuesday. Clouet has worked at a school-based health center in Bridgeport, Conn.
Maggie Clouet, nurse coordinator at Mamaroneck schools, described task force findings Tuesday. Clouet has worked at a school-based health center in Bridgeport, Conn. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- An uproar over whether to allow Open Door to operate a school-based health center at Mamaroneck Avenue School resumed at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Statistics about elementary school illnesses and absences -- presented by a task force and available online here - - bolstered arguments that the Mamaroneck Union Free School District might benefit from more health care for its low-income pupils.

But opponents who fear their children might be exposed to sick kids using a clinic inside the school were riled up by a rumor that Open Door separately plans to open a nearby community-based health center. If true, some parents asked, why place one in their school?

After audience outbursts that prompted a brief recess and the need to station a police officer at the school board meeting, 10 people came to the microphone to voice concerns. The school board ultimately decided that the next step is to conduct a more thorough needs assessment.

"They will set aside time at an upcoming public meeting (no date set yet) to discuss and understand what’s involved in doing this and how a more formal needs assessment would be structured," District spokeswoman Debbie Manetta said.

Lindsay Farrell, president of Open Door, said no lease has been signed for a community-based health center along Mamaroneck Avenue. It would take at least two years to open a separate center for families even under the most favorable, aggressive scenario, Farrell said Wednesday. A need for a school-based health center (SBHC) remains, regardless of hopes for a community-based center in Mamaroneck, Farrell said.

The SBHC would be for students enrolled at the Mamaroneck Avenue school only, not for their families. Care would be provided by a nurse practitioner or medical assistant, include annual wellness checkups and immunizations, and basic tests and care -- authorized in advance by parents -- for illnesses such as headaches or strep throat.  Open Door, a non-profit, has offered the service to Mamaroneck at no charge. The school district would pay for custodial services and security.

At one point, School Board President Ann LoBue called for a meeting recess after her attempt at answering the audience's questions on index cards led to more disruptions including shouts from a Harrison grandfather of Mamaroneck students.

Tina Maresca said she will pull her two children out of Mamaroneck Elementary if a health clinic is placed there. "This is causing a huge divide in our school,'' said.

School board member James Needham triggered the loudest applause when he suggested the school district keep its focus on academic achievement, not providing health care.

The board-appointed task force generally predicted that reducing absences by providing health care might improve overall academic performance. That prompted some parents and task force members to suggest more statistical studies of Open Door's clinics at the Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District and elsewhere.

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