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HIGH SCHOOL BLOOD DRIVES CUT TO TWO A YEAR

Officials' concerns for safety of students prompted the School Board to act.

The way J.B. Gaskins sees things, donating blood is a civics lesson that no high school can teach in a classroom.

"There is no better lesson than giving back to the community," said Gaskins, vice president of donor systems for Florida Blood Services in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties.

But blood donation at high schools has caused enough consternation among Pasco School Board officials that the district has decided to scale back the number of blood drives it will allow each year.

The district will limit the nine schools that participate to two drives annually, instead of three, with at least four months between them. Teachers, clinic nurses, coaches and principals all have raised concerns about student safety if they get dizzy or ill afterward, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Tuesday.

Blood drives also interfere with class time, assistant superintendent Jim Davis added. Students are typically gone about an hour.

"It's a delicate balance, with schools trying to balance the integrity of classroom time and also meet the needs of the community," Davis told the School Board.

Board member Marge Whaley, a retired school nurse, brought the issue up during a meeting Tuesday. She had received word that Florida Blood Services feared a steep dropoff in Pasco high school donations, which make up about 18 percent of the total, and wondered if the district could create an alternative solution.

Whaley suggested, for instance, that the blood drives still take place as in the past, but after classes end so that students do not miss instructional time.

Fiorentino and her staff raised the red flag on that idea, too.

If kids fall ill after school, the school nurse is gone, the superintendent noted. If they're driving home, the problem is worse. Moreover, she continued, coaches have said they don't want athletes who have donated blood to participate in practice or games on the same day for fear of complications.

Whaley asked how big this problem really is.

"I go there, I give blood and I drive home. I'm sure many people do," she said. "How many people have reactions?"

The district staff didn't have an answer. But Gaskins, who has kept in touch with the administration over the issue, did.

Less than 1 percent of students who donate have reactions that require additional care and monitoring, said Gaskins, who did not attend the meeting.

The number of students who donate more than once a year is not huge, he added, suggesting the idea that kids give blood to skip class is misguided. For the most recent year, he said, Pasco schools had 1,578 donors give 2,259 pints of blood. Of those, 32 percent donated more than one time. Of the group, 90 - most likely teachers or other staff members - gave a gallon of blood.

Still, the impact of high school blood drives is critical, Gaskins said. "Eighteen percent (of donations) come from high school blood drives," he said.

At the same time, he continued, Florida Blood Services is working out a plan to try to convince school officials to return to the higher number of annual high school drives. The goal is to reduce the number of bad reactions and make sure students are out of class for less time per donation.

He expected to bring a presentation to Davis over the summer.

In the meantime, the School Board threw its support behind Fiorentino's decision to cut back the blood drives.

"It's an important thing to give blood, but I'm not sure that on students' time is the best way," chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said.

IN OTHER NEWS

The School Board on Tuesday also:

- Accepted on first reading new attendance zone maps for Veterans Elementary in Wesley Chapel and Crews Lake Middle in Shady Hills. One parent spoke to request a change, but the board did not alter the boundaries.

- Voted to seek exclusive local control from the state over approval of Pasco charter schools.

- Learned the County Commission is pushing for quick adoption of a school concurrency plan, which was due to the state on Feb. 1. Board members said they would not accept a plan that does not meet their goals, regardless of having missed the deadline.

- Conducted a workshop on school construction and capital projects budgeting. The board discussed priorities, such as purchasing land for new high schools and renovating older schools, but made no decisions.

BY THE NUMBERS

1,578 donors in Pasco County schools.

2,259 pints of blood that come from them.

18 percentage of total donations that comes from Pasco high schools

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