It is the middle of summer and I am writing about school - not
cool, I know. But the idea was provoked by an article I read
recently in the American Journal of Public Health. The piece
suggests integrating public health messaging into the school
The author, Dr. Ira Wile, proposes some clever ideas to do this,
such as having math problems that use facts related to hygiene and
vital statistics rather than traditional commerce-related
questions, encouraging art projects that result in dynamic posters
containing public health messages and incorporating information
about food safety in home economics courses.
What a fabulous idea! What’s incredible is that Wile wrote
Flash forward 94 years, assess where we are with the relationship
between the school system and the public health system, and it is
easy to say we’ve come a long way.
Take my own experiences in public school: Annual hearing and vision
screening (which to my chagrin revealed the need for eyeglasses in
grade); sex ed (the teachers finally had our rapt
attention); Duso the Dolphin (who taught us to understand ourselves
and others); and the President’s Physical Fitness Award (remember
the impossible rope climb?).
I am curious to hear about what our readers remember about their
public-health-related school experiences. Please begin that chatter
in the comment section! But also think about how law and policy
change have significantly expanded the connection between schools
and public health.
I started writing a list of public health laws and policies that
involve the school system, and it began to resemble my niece’s
Christmas Wish List: long and diverse (her 50-item list included a
Care Bear and a punching bag).
First on my list was mandatory vaccinations for entry to school;
all 50 states require certain vaccinations. This certainly
contributes to our success with immunization rates and disease
eradication. The free and reduced school breakfast and lunch
program, created under federal law, improves the nutritional health
of many children.
State and local policies also mandate the provision of fluoride
treatments to children on well water, minimum time for physical
activity and that school personnel report suspected child abuse and
neglect. There are laws requiring schools to adopt and enforce
policies to prevent bullying, protect children with nut allergies
and administer surveys that provide public health officials with
important data. The list goes on.
What we have learned is that law and policy play a significant role
in creating the collaboration Wile proposed in 1917.
As the pendulum swings and the economy sours, we experience
opposition to using schools to improve public health. School
systems understandably recoil at new mandates, fearing exhaustion
of limited resources, and some community members fight what they
perceive as inappropriate government interference. Given the
incredible success we have had in developing public health policies
using the school system, we must respect these concerns, but not
Just as Wile recommended 94 years ago, we must make the most of the
collaboration between schools and public health agencies. I look
forward to reading your ideas - in the comment section below or by
email, if you prefer - on low or no-cost school-based policies that
will build on our long history of success.
Now . . . back to summer vacation.This information was developed by Kathleen
Dachille, director of the Network for Public Health Law – Eastern
Region.The Network for Public Health Law provides information and
technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal
information and assistance provided in this document does not
constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice,
readers should consult a lawyer in their state.