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School Board Approves Partnership That Could Bring Community Health Center

If the grant is approved, the health center could open in time for the 2021-2022 school year.

A partnership that could lead to a school-based, community health center was approved by the Board of Education at its March 17 meeting.

The Board approved the partnership with Dover-based Zufall Health to provide health services for students, their families and the general township population.

The non-profit Zufall Health has medical centers throughout central New Jersey. It’s mission, according to its web site, is “to provide access to quality, affordable and culturally competent healthcare to people and communities who experience barriers to care.”

That approval wasn’t unanimous, however. Board member Pat Stanley voted against the deal, saying that such student health centers have led to “underage abortions” and children being given drugs without their parents’ consent.

Zufall, which has partnered with township government in the past to provide free COVID-19 testing, approached the district with the idea to partner to create the health center, schools Superintendent John Ravally said.

Zufall approached Franklin and several other districts, Ravally said, but chose Franklin because the district offered the best logistics, in the form of portable classrooms.

“To do a community health center in your school is challenging in this day and age,” Ravally said. “You’re doing everything to control access, and here you’re opening access, but in our circumstance, we can leverage the use of the portables and there’s a good opportunity there, which is why they selected us over a couple of other districts.”

Zufall will submit a grant application to the federal government in April to run the health center, Ravally said. If the company gets the grant, Ravally said the health center would probably open in September.

“The grant is focused on the students, but the idea is that it will also be open to the community, which is why we talked about the portables, because they’re on campus, but they’re disconnected from the school, which is what made us the perfect candidate for that,” Ravally said.

Ravally said Zufall has a center in Somerville, adding that the district does send some students there.

“They do service some of our students and families now, but it’s difficult for them to get out there,” he said. “It would give our students access to high-quality medical care, right in their community, on our campus.

In voting “no” on the partnership resolution, Stanley said that the health center could take away student health care choices from parents.

“I don’t believe that the school board should be involved in this kind of medical support,” she said. “I think this is a layer between parents and their children.”

Stanley elaborated later in the meeting.

“With school-based health systems, many, many times, they have been abused,” she said. “Young people have been sent for underage abortions, this is all out there, and now young people are going to be sent for transgender health treatments.”

“The children belong to the parents, the parents are the sole arbiters as to what takes place with the children,” Stanley said. “It is wildly unfortunate that there are children whose parents have vacated their responsibilities. We have many safety nets for them.”

Board member Ed Potosnak disagreed with Stanley.

“The 18th Century model of school, where teachers teach, kids learn and everyone goes home, is not what happens in 2021,” he said.

“I think it’s part of what I would consider modernization,” he said. “We have to adapt with the needs as the community changes. If you’re starving you can’t concentrate to learn, if you’re unhealthy, you can’t concentrate to learn.”

“I think it is exciting … it makes the schools the center of our schools, which they are,” Potosnak said.

Board president Nancy LaCorte said the community health center would be a “great opportunity to bring health and well-being to our students and our community. It’s not just the school thing, it’s the community.”

LaCorte said the health center would be geared toward lower-income families who may not have any other sourced of health care.

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