Many of the elements of the machinery outlined in the preceding chapter already exist in New York City. All of them brought together, either by amalgamation or by proper coordination, would present a very strong front. Unfortunately, however, there is not only unsatisfactory team work, but the efficiency of individual parts is seriously questioned by the heads of the health and school departments.
The inspection for contagious diseases, the examination for physical defects, the follow-up work by nurses and physicians, are in charge of the department of health. Physical training and athletics for elementary and high schools, winter recreation centers, and vacation playgrounds are under directors and assistants employed by the board of education. Heretofore inadequate powers and inadequate assistance for training or for research have been given to the physical director.
The city superintendent of schools, in his report for the year 1907, presented to the board of education in January, 1908, declares that the "present arrangements have been inadequate.... In only 248 schools—less than half the total number—were any examinations for possible diseases made. In these 248 schools not more than one third of the pupils were examined. It is only a few months since any examinations for physical defects were made outside of the boroughs of Manhattan and The Bronx, and then only on account of the New York Committee on the Physical Welfare of School Children."
As is so often the case, it is difficult to decide the merits of a method that has not been efficiently executed. The department of health has not hitherto done its best in its school relations. The commissioner of health, in a public interview, expresses resentment at the strictures by the school authorities. Yet in 1907 he permitted to accumulate an unexpended balance of $33,000 specifically voted for school inspectors, and repeatedly tried to have this amount transferred to other purposes. The interest of the Bureau of Municipal Research in municipal budgets that tell for what purposes money is voted and then prevent transfers without full publicity, preserved this particular fund. Moreover, the discussion that prevented its diversion from physical examinations strengthened the health department's interest in this important responsibility. Neither physicians nor nurses have been adequately supervised. Instead of seeing that defects were removed, the department of health sent out postal cards like the following:
From 118,000 such notices sent out only 9600 replies were received, of which only one in twenty stated that attention had actually been given the needy child. The department had been satisfied with evidence that family physicians had advised parents properly, as in the case of the child above reported:
For a candid, complete criticism of the medical examination work up to June, 1908, consult the report of the Bureau of Municipal Research, presented to the Washington Congress of Public Education Associations in October, 1908, by Commissioner of Health, Dr. Darlington. The bureau's study is entitled A Bureau of Child Hygiene, and, in addition to the story of medical examination in New York City schools, gives the blank forms adopted for use in September, 1908. Important as are the facts given in this study, its greatest value, its authors declare, is in its account of "the method of intelligent self-criticism and experiment which alone enables a public department to keep its service abreast of public needs."