07/12/2011 11:04 am ET | Updated Sep 11, 2011

Teachers' New Day Jobs

On my third day of summer vacation, I received an email from United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), my union.

My initial thought was, "Leave me alone. I don't want to hear about more furlough days."

But it was dark outside and the park where I take my dogs for their early morning romp would not open for another hour, so I read on and learned that California State Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee voted 7 to 1 in favor of Senate Bill 161. The letter urged UTLA members to call Julia Brownley, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, and voice our opposition.

Yeah, yeah. Call Sacramento and express my outrage to a 19-year old intern or to a message machine. Lot a good that'll do. SB 161 authorizes school districts to provide school employees, including teachers, in the absence of a credentialed school nurse, with medical training.

Turns out this one really matters to my day-to-day life.

I have heard that recent education cutbacks eliminated some school nursing positions, while other school nurses have had their jobs reduced to part-time. If Venice High School where I teach loses its nurse, then SB 161 could thrust me in the position of administering dangerous medication, particularly something called Diastat, to a seizing epileptic.

Oh great. I have enough trouble teaching the five paragraph essay and now I could be deputized as a part-time nurse?

The letter continued, "It is important to correctly assess what type of seizure episode is occurring. If the age appropriate dosage is not given, death due to respiratory failure can occur."


I read on.

"The rectal syringe...."

Whoa! Really? Did I just read that?

"The rectal syringe is made of hard plastic so there is a possibility of piercing the rectal cavity ... School nurses are licensed to handle such situations and provide appropriate care at a moment's notice ... School employees face legal liability if something goes wrong ... School districts generally do not cover employees for punitive damages."

So, let me recap.

What if VHS's nurse is limited to part-time and I am given training to administer Diastat? And what if an epileptic student is enrolled in my class? Five years ago when I taught at Palisades Charter High School, one of my favorite tenth graders, a 16-year old honors student (I'll call her Suzanna), suffered from epilepsy.

What if Suzanna, or someone like her, went into a seizure and hit the cold, hard classroom floor? I am supposed to identify the type of seizure and remember whether or not it requires medication. And if it does require medication, I am to do what? Unbutton her jeans, and pull her pants and her panties down around her ankles? And in front of 35 or 40 of her classmates.

Then I do what? Tell my students to ignore the half naked girl who is trembling on the floor and go back to reading Travels with Charley in Search of America?

Next, I suppose I would I race to my desk, unlock the drawer where I keep the rectal syringe ( it is not stolen. I have a few students who would inject themselves with anything), follow the directions (I read slowly), return to my student's side and then...

Oh right...

Then, I, uh part, uh, the seizing girl's butt cheeks ... or ask volunteers to do so. Probably best to ask for female volunteers. Asking 16-old boys to volunteer during this procedure would not be cool. I imagine some of those lads would be seeing a naked girl's bum for the first time and they might lose focus.

Then I inject the medication (and I get squeamish just flossing my teeth), and hope I do not crack the syringe causing her to bleed to death.

Do I then write Suzanna a pass to go use the bathroom and compose herself or call her parents so they can take her to see a real medical professional? How would I ever regain control of my class? How would Suzanna ever show her face in my class again after she had been stripped naked in front of her classmates?

The California State Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee voted 7 to 1 in favor of putting non-medical professionals, people like me, in charge of life or death medical situations. Exactly who are they protecting?

I bet those seven legislators share one thing in common. I bet they do not send their kids to public school. I bet these elected officials would never allow their children's teachers to take the place of a medical professional. But for other people's kids, oh well. Apparently for our legislators, anything goes, so long as they don't tax or inconvenience the wealthiest people in California in order to find rational solutions to our state's financial crisis.

And if a few epileptic kids suffer or die in public school classrooms, oh well, they can always add one more crisis to blame on teachers.