TB? In 2009?
Considering letters were just sent home to parents of Detroit students notifying them that a high school student has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, it’s a real threat. But is it appropriate to start testing parent volunteers?
What’s next, AIDS testing for the guy delivering cans of juice to the cafeteria?
The Capistrano rule, which was coupled with a demand that parents undergo criminal background checks (not a bad idea) at a cost to be paid by the parent (now there’s the rub), has been kicked to the side. But there are still a number of districts that maintain TB testing rules for parents, including the Orange Unified School District, which requires any parent who works with kids more than four hours a week have the tuberculin test.
Ironically, the CDC recommended almost a decade ago that schools step away from testing their own personnel for TB, focusing instead on high risk groups. So what’s the point?
TB is highly infectious. Characterized by a heavy cough, it’s spread through the air – chiefly when someone infected with active TB coughs and spreads their germs through the air. But not everyone with TB can spread their disease to others. In fact, latent TB is characterized by not feeling sick and NOT being contagious (despite a positive TB test). Those with active TB, on the other hand, are clearly sick. They often cough up blood, experience chills and hot flashes and a loss of appetite. In short, they’re miserable – and probably not up for heading off to a school to act as a volunteer handing out cupcakes at the class Valentine’s Day party.
So why this sudden focus on TB testing for parents? Despite the Detroit story that just cropped up, TB numbers are still relatively low – with just fourteen thousand cases in 2005. Since 1992, the number of cases has been steadily declining in the U.S.
The Capistrano District’s former superintendent (he’s on paid administrative leave) had championed the plan for his school as a safety measure for the students. Criminal background checks are one thing. But medical tests?
That’s a clear invasion of privacy, especially in light of the fact that not all test results have a direct impact on child safety – and a coughing, hacking, clearly sick parent could just as easily show up in a school building to pick their child up as they could to volunteer. What’s next? AIDS testing because a parent cutting the krispy treat bars for the class party might bleed? Or herpes testing because they might drink from a cup, set it down and run the risk of a child picking it up next? Giving the OK to let schools require parents take TB tests to volunteer could well open Pandora’s Box – both to other, even more invasive test requirements and to keeping parents off school premises despite the needs of their own children.
The even more pressing question is what they can do with the information. Schools do not fall under the federal HIPAA act – which means medical tests ordered so Mom can sponsor a trip to the zoo today could well be subpoenaed down the line.
Suddenly doing it “for the children” sounds an awful lot less compelling.