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Full-service schools might make sense for Pasco

When Pasco County School Board candidates Liz Dorp and Kathy Livermore teamed up last week to condemn full-service schools, we heard about kids receiving medical and psychological care without parental consent.

We heard about a wicked pediatrician at a full-service school in Pennsylvania, who marched 59 11-year-old girls into the nurse's office where they were ordered to strip and submit to vaginal examinations.

We even heard about a monster destroying our national fabric.

What we didn't hear about, not much anyway, is the mission of full-service schools and whether it's relevant to the problems of Pasco County families.

Evidence, which Dorp and Livermore apparently overlooked, strongly suggests that the strategy behind these schools is appropriate to Pasco, where many far-flung, low-income families can't manage transportation to needed services.

Full-service schools bring children of low-income families within walking distance of subsidized dental care, drug and alcohol counseling, immunizations, physical exams, routine lab tests and other services.

The idea is to create facilities within schools where existing human services agencies and professional volunteers can set up shop.

Dorp and Livermore object because, they say, public schools already have enough trouble teaching kids to read and write without worrying about social services.

Besides, they say, subsidized medical services, dental services and counseling services already are available to low-income families in Pasco. Spending more to provide them in school is a redundant waste.

"It's duplication," Dorp said. "We're building to house the Harbor mental health unit, physicians' examining tables and dental chairs, when these people have offices elsewhere."

But what about transportation? All the free services in the world are of no help to low-income families, if they have no means of transportation.

"I've never had anyone say to me, "I can't get free services because I can't get there,'

" Dorp said. "Transportation is not the issue."

Maybe Dorp is talking to the wrong people. According to a 1992 countywide needs assessment commissioned by the board of directors of the United Way of Pasco County, transportation is an issue.

All 3,500 Pasco County households surveyed for the assessment listed inadequate transportation as an issue in their neighborhoods. Sixty-four percent classified it as a serious problem.

The survey also showed that nearly 90 percent of the 180 Pasco County health and human services agencies surveyed said lack of transportation was their clients' chief barrier to obtaining adequate services.

Combine that with unemployment, inadequate medical care and poverty, all of which were listed by Pasco residents among the top seven problems in their neighborhoods, and a picture of this county emerges in which the concept of full-service schools makes perfect sense.

If low-income people can't reach the existing services they need, take the services to the people. And what better place to do that than in public schools, where thousands of kids and parents congregate five days each week, about nine months each year?

"It's really an economy of scale," said Jack Levine, a renowned children's advocate and director of the Florida Center for Children and Youth.

"It's really not some kind of plot to impose on family values. That's absurd. Every family has a value on health care. Every family has a value on access to recreation services or other kinds of family-strengthening, youth development services."

Levine said the real problem with full-service schools is that parents don't participate in the beginning when programs for the schools are designed and decisions are made about which services to provide.

"But for parents to draw the line and say "No, we're against them,' . . . that doesn't help kids," he said. "The point is that parental involvement is key, not only in terms of curriculum but in terms of volunteerism. (Full-service schools) can't work, if it's only professionals. They have to reflect the values and the involvement of parents in the community."

Dorp and Livermore say they, too, are concerned about parental involvement in full-service schools but they make it clear that they think these schools should be scrapped.

That's a shame because a local election campaign should be an excellent opportunity for all candidates to raise community awareness for constructive purposes.