Health barriers impact learning

Hawaii is only one of 20 states that require adequate health screenings for children entering school, according to a recent report.

The report released on Wednesday by Children’s Health Fund, entitled “Missed Opportunities,” examined school health screening laws in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for seven specific health conditions found to significantly impede a child’s ability to learn in school. The seven conditions, known as “Health Barriers to Learning” (HBLs), are vision problems, hearing difficulties, asthma, dental pain, hunger, lead exposure, and behavioral/mental health issues.

“Struggles in school often originate in early childhood, and unrecognized or under-managed health conditions are among the many possible causes,” said Dr. Delaney Gracy, chief medical officer at Children’s Health Fund. “Many state governments are missing prime opportunities to help children succeed by neglecting to require adequate health screenings for students.”

Researchers assigned a letter grade to each state based on the requirements and frequency of screenings written into state law for the health barriers. Nearly 60 percent5 of the states earned either a “D” or an “F” where more than 41 million children live. The state of Hawaii earned a passing grade of “C.”

Students enrolling in Hawaii schools are required to provide health records, and all students entering school in the state for the first time must have tuberculosis clearance and a completed Student Health Record.

“Research demonstrates that school health programs are associated with positive student health and academic achievement outcomes,” said school health coordinator for Hawaii State Department of Health, Jennifer Ryan.

Beginning with school year 2017-18, Hawaii students entering the seventh grade are required to have an additional physical examination and complete an updated Student Health Record.

“As these changes took effect in the 2017-2018 school year, we have raised Hawaii’s grade to a ‘B’,” said John Thomlin, chief of staff and communications director at The Children’s Health Fund.

In Hawaii, each student requires a periodic examination to determine status for allergies, asthma, diabetes, vision, hearing, dental pain and more, as well as providing previous medical history. Required immunizations for school attendance include vaccinations for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), Hepatitis B and chickenpox.

“A large majority of American states are failing children,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, co-founder of Children’s Health Fund and professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It’s unacceptable to expect students to learn when they cannot see the chalkboard or hear what the teacher says.”

For the states that earned an “F” researchers were unable to find any screening requirements upon school entry for vision, hearing, or dental pain. In the state of South Carolina, researchers could not identify any requirements for students to receive basic screenings for these conditions throughout their K-12 academic careers.

Other low performing states required limited or infrequent screenings upon school entry.

Only Washington, D.C., earned an “A,” as it requires annual screenings for six of the seven barriers, while just six states earned “B”s. Twelve million children live in these highest-performing states/territories.

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