New report highlights gaps in school asthma policies

The 2016 State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for Schools ranks the states with the best public policies for people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis and related allergic diseases in U.S. schools. 

The 2016 State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for Schools ranks the states with the best public policies for people with asthma, food allergies, anaphylaxis and related allergic diseases in U.S. schools. 

Florida could be doing more to help schoolchildren breathe a little easier, according to a new report. The state fell short on measures that looked at the availability of school nurses, air quality management and smoking policies.

Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absences and hospitalizations among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s most recent data estimates that roughly 9 percent of kids in the U.S. are asthmatic.

The report, the "2016 State Honor Roll" released by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, highlights states with the best public policies for schoolchildren with asthma and allergies.

Only 15 states made AAFA’s honor roll. Florida did not make the cut, meeting only 16 of the 23 measures AAFA looks for. States needed to reach 18 to make the grade. Connecticut was the first and only state to meet all 23 benchmarks. 

The lack of access to school nurses is a challenge, said Meryl Bloomrosen, AAFA’s senior vice president of policy, advocacy and research. Florida does not require the recommended nurse-to-student ratio of 1 to 750, and has no policy that guarantees a registered nurse in every school.

The state has a nurse to school ratio of 1 to 3, according to 2015-2016 data obtained from the Florida Department of Health.

“While the value of school nursing is seldom disputed, states are not using policy to address the need,” AAFA’s report reads.

AAFA noted that while Florida is working on statewide policies that manage pests in school buildings, the state has no policies to manage indoor air quality. It’s a particular problem in Florida, Bloomrosen said, since many school buildings, especially older ones, are likely to have mold that aggravates breathing problems.

Florida also lost points for having no statewide policy banning smoking on school grounds. But most school districts in the state are now smoke-free, said Karen Farrington, a member of the steering committee for the Florida Asthma Coalition. 

Asthma and attendance

The FAC is focused on making the link between health and academics. The program runs the Asthma-Friendly Schools Recognition, an initiative that aims to improve children's health, attendance and school performance by promoting healthy school environments for asthmatic kids.

Schools have to apply in order to receive the recognition. Farrington said the requirements are pretty rigorous. Winning schools receive a cash prize. Last year, only 16 schools in the state were recognized.

Each year, more and more schools apply to receive recognition, Farrington said. Schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties have yet to apply for the award since it first began in 2012.  

"Asthma is the number one reason why students are chronically absent," Farrington said. "It impacts them later on because poor attendance leads to higher dropout rates."

Asthma is also the most common chronic disease among children. It can be a life threatening one, too. When parents don't feel their child’s school is equipped to handle an attack, they’re more likely to just keep kids at home, said Hedy Chang, director at Attendance Works, an initiative aimed at improving school attendance.

Many families don’t understand the impact of just missing two days of school a month, Chang said, but, “If you don’t address the health reasons, you may not be able to get kids back to school regularly.”