Every school district in Alaska requires new or incoming students to receive physicals before starting school and most, if not all, don’t cover those costs. Most school districts in Alaska might be in violation of state statute.
That’s if Petersburg School District’s attorney Allen Clendaniel’s interpretation of Alaska Statue 14.30.070 is correct. In part, it states, “The governing body of each school district shall provide for and require a physical examination of every child attending school in the district.”
“If you look at the literal language of the statute it says ‘require and provide for’,” Clendaniel said. “I just can’t get over that ‘provide for’ language.”
The dusty and cobweb layered law was written in 1953 when Alaska was still a territory—evidenced by the cost of healthcare at the time—the language states physicals should not “exceed two and one-half dollars per pupil…”
Clendaniel said the statute was revised in 1966 as part of an overall education statute overhaul. The 1953 version tasked the Commissioner of Health to reimburse physicals. The 1966 version, he said, appeared to have transferred the responsibility to school districts.
“If the legislature had wished, however, to relieve school districts of the obligation to provide for the physical examinations it likely would have changed the language at that time,” Clendaneil wrote in a letter to PSD. “It did not.”
But some districts explicitly state the responsibility for payment lies on the child’s caretaker. Skagway District School’s website states, “Upon entering Skagway School, every child shall be required to have a physical examination by a physician as provided in Alaska Statutes, Section 14.30.070. The examination will be performed by the student's private physician, and the financial responsibility for the physical examination will be assumed by the child's parents.”
Other schools, Petersburg and Wrangell included, only inform parents or caretakers that physicals are required.
Clendaniel began investigating the statute after PSD board member Sarah Holmgrain brought up the issue during a board meeting. Several parents approached her questioning the requirement and so she dug into the statute herself.
“We just did our physical last week,” Holmgrain said. “I dragged my heels because I kept waiting to hear what was going to happen on this but now I have to fork over $120 plus to pay for it. Maybe we are the ones who are going to be the first ones to say ‘nope’.”
Holmgrain questioned during the board’s September 17 meeting what the district should do about students who haven’t received a physical yet.
“I don’t think we have a leg to stand on to make them require it unless we turn around and reimburse them,” Holmgrain said.
A complete physical exam costs between $210-270 dollars depending on the age of the child and whether or not the child is a new patient at Petersburg Medical Clinic.
The board decided to direct students who haven’t yet received a physical to the school’s registered nurse.
PSD superintendent Rob Thomason is currently preparing a letter for local legislators to make them aware of the issue.
“If it’s in the law, let’s do it right.” Thomason said. “If it’s not going to be the law let’s get the law changed so that we’re doing what is right.”
He will also begin drafting a resolution that will be presented to the Alaska Association of School Boards requesting that the statute be reviewed as well.
The Attorney General has not opined on whether or not a school district must pay for physicals.
Marry Bell, School Health Nurse Consultant for the Division of Public Health, said part of the statute is around for a reason.
“It is a requirement that is old but it definitely has merit,” Bell said. “The purpose of the exam is to give them (medical professionals) a chance to look at developmental problems, a chance to talk about physical limitations they might have as barriers to participating in the school environment.”
Bell says the DPH is in the early stages of reviewing the statute and no clear changes are on the table.