Thursday, September 26, 2013

Superintendent Dr. Toback reveals "serious incident" surrounding EMT program

Dr. Toback issued the following letter yesterday:

Dear Parents, Guardians, Caregivers, Students, and Concerned Citizens,

I write to you today in response to a recent article that appeared in the Hoboken Reporter regarding the Hoboken Public Schools Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Program. I can imagine that most people reading the article have some serious questions about the motives of the administration for not continuing the program. The article included some relevant information, but not enough for residents to fully understand the decision.

A Wake Up Call
Quite a bit of attention was focused on the EMT program after a serious incident where the adult driver of the HHS ambulance was arrested for crimes of a sexual nature committed against students attending Hoboken High School. Although the EMT students were not the victims, you can appreciate that there was an extensive investigation and evaluation process. The arrest was a low point in the history of the program, but it was a wake up call in many ways and the incident revealed some other issues.

Facts Concerning the Discontinuation
You cannot be at two places at the same time.
One of the issues that arose was the dual nature of work for the employees involved with the EMT program. The driver mentioned above was also working as an instructional aide which means that when he was on an ambulance call, he was not working with the students he was assigned to work with and support. This is a liability for the district as students needing services would not be receiving those services in the consistent manner required.

Needs of Students

The teacher missed classes when there was an ambulance call and this had an impact on all of the students. The EMT students also missed class when there were calls. Now, with only a small number of students, the program would be excessively reliant on the same students missing class. The first priority for our students must be the core subjects like reading and math.

NJDOE Approval

After further evaluation of the program, it became clear that the district was running a career education program. The problem is that all career and technical education programs in New Jersey public schools must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Education. The EMT Program is not an approved program. Operating an unapproved program is a liability for the district.

Insurance Issues

We recently uncovered some insurance concerns that must be resolved. School districts are required to report to insurance companies any situations creating unique risk much like you would be required to do in order to be insured. The EMT program was never reported to our insurance carrier and they were not aware we had such a program. In our case, the district has a number of emergency medical students in training and as you can imagine, the cost to insure such a program would be quite high. Considering that the program is not operating with the required NJDOE approval, it may not be possible to insure the program. While the program may be covered in some respects by other insurance from the city or elsewhere, we do not have any written record of this and our insurance carrier has their own stand. Our current carrier, the New Jersey School Board Association Insurance Group, declined to cover the program and suggested we look elsewhere.


In order to operate the program properly, there would be a number of additional employees that we would need to hire including a driver who would be on stand-by to drive the ambulance. We would need to provide additional supervision for different events where supervision did not exist. The district would need a full time teacher. The cost for insurance is not determined at this point. It is safe to say that the program, with the additional employees, benefits, insurance, and all other costs, would be in the neighborhood of at least $150,000 and possibly as high as $200,000. That is quite an investment for a class that is not required.

There are many other claims and optional explanations that have been offered regarding the decision to not continue the program. I have responded below to some claims and offered relevant facts.

There are many more students interested in the program.

The enrollment situation is very simple. At the end of the school year, there were seven students signed up for the EMT program. Six students were seniors and one was a junior. The fact that almost no under class students signed up does not speak well to the future of the program. Students have some classes that they must take to graduate and others they can choose. The district employees cannot compel students to enroll in the EMT program. The main point is that the students have clearly communicated their level of interest in the program.

With one less ambulance in circulation, the residents, students, and teachers are not as safe as they once were.

I believe that the residents of the city should be greatly concerned if optional class choices of high school students have an impact on their overall safety. If this is the case, then there is a much larger problem and it has nothing to do with the public schools. Like any other school district in the United States, we would need to call an ambulance if there is a medical emergency for a student or staff member.

There are other programs that have smaller enrollments. The school district is not being fair by maintaining the AP program and not the EMT program.

Advanced Placement classes are critical and the classes in most, if not all cases, meet high school graduation requirements. In addition, all public schools are required to offer programs for gifted and talented students. At the high school level, AP programs make it possible to meet state requirements. Because AP classes are single classes, the district usually expends only a small stipend of about $5,000 to the AP teachers for each class we offer. While G&T programs are required, there is no requirement to run an EMT program.

Students are missing out on full college scholarships and opportunities at medical schools.

A survey of high school guidance counselors and teachers revealed that there were no students they were aware of who received full or partial EMT scholarships from a college or university or admission to medical school based on their involvement with the EMT program. Montclair State University offers an EMT in Residence Program. This is not a scholarship, but more of a work program. If selected, the resident EMT will be responsible for being on campus and on-call a minimum of one night per week (11 p.m. to 8 a.m.), three day shifts per week (12 hours total), and two weekends per month. In exchange, the EMT is given a room on campus and priority registration rights.

The EMT Program at Hoboken High School is the only one in the state and maybe the nation. How could the BOE end such a unique opportunity for students?

If you consider the information above, I believe that it is easy to understand why it is so unique and why no other comprehensive high schools in New Jersey and maybe even the United States operate an EMT program. There are critical issues that must be considered. The decision to discontinue was a scheduling decision that was handled at the building level in combination with other concerns. The Hoboken Board of Education did not have anything to do with the decision to discontinue the program. Given the above, many people would probably question if it is reasonable for a local board of education to take on such a responsibility.

I am hopeful that this letter clears up at least some misperceptions about why the school district would not continue the EMT program. While the intent of the program was noble and worthwhile from the day it started, there are important issues that must be considered. Nobody wants to discontinue a program unless it is necessary.

Mark Toback Superintendent of Schools 

Talking Ed Note: BoE trustee Ruth McAllister added via email:

"For a small high school, Hoboken High is fortunate to be able to offer a wide variety of interesting electives: Culinary Arts, Forensics, Construction, Graphic Arts, Drama to name a few.  The EMT program was one of these choices.  When some classes are full and others are not, administrators have to make decision about where to put resources in order to best serve our students."