After Newark student's death, school board calls for better communication with parents

By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on March 18, 2015

NEWARK — In the wake of a six-year-old student's death from suspected meningitis, Newark Public Schools Advisory board members on Tuesday called for improved communication with district families about the health resources available to them.

After receiving an update on the case at Tuesday's meeting, board chairman Rashon Hasan noted that while some families can't afford to see their own doctors, students may receive treatment at certain schools through a partnership with the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center.

But Hasan said he was worried that not enough parents are aware of those services.

"My concern is that we don't have enough awareness throughout the school district where...members of the community see this as a viable option to go and get their children treatment when the child is ill," Hasan said during the meeting.

Marguerite Leuze, director of health services for Newark Public Schools, told Hasan the medical professionals are visiting more schools, but she said "we can do more and...find other ways to get them involved."

Tuesday's meeting was the first board meeting since the first grade student at the Oliver School in the East Ward died on March 5, and the subsequent communication breakdowns between the school district and the city health department.

The case also has involved misinformation about the child's whereabouts in the days leading up to her death.

School officials initially told parents the child had been out of school for 10 days before she died. But the district later said it had misread the attendance data and that the child was, in fact, in school while she was infected.

At Tuesday's meeting, Assistant Superintendent Mitchell Center said, going forward, such attendance reports should be "double- and triple-checked."

"It was human error," Center told board members.

Leuze also said the student's classroom and the rest of the school had been cleaned, and she said officials are continuing to monitor the health conditions of other students there.

"We continue our monitoring of the school at this time and we will continue monitoring the school, looking for any patterns of illness," said Leuze, adding that "we are past the ten-day period when you would expect to see another case."

After the meeting, board member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson said in an interview that there needs to be better communication between schools and parents to "mitigate crisis in our schools."

"The problems of individual families become the school's problems when they escalate," Baskerville-Richardson said.

"There needs to be a relationship between families and school, so that families are not isolated when they go into crisis, so that the school is a point of reference for families in terms of seeking advice when they're in crisis."

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