ADAMS -- A publicly-funded nurse position at St. Stanislaus Kostka School remains unfilled months after it was approved by town voters.
Representatives from the Catholic school asked the town to execute a contract with a third-party health company to provide a nurse for its students at Wednesday's Board of Health meeting.
The board said that it could not hire a nurse before knowing whether or not the position violates the state constitution.
Voters approved $17,500 in public funds for the private school's nurse position by a large majority at Town Meeting earlier this year, after town officials questioned its constitutionality and looked to cut it.
Though the funds are available, it is at the discretion of the board to spend them or not.
"It's all about the legality of it," said Patricia Clairmont, chairwoman of the Board of Health.
An unofficial recommendation from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) suggested that using the town's public funds to pay for a nurse at St. Stanislaus -- which has happened annually for approximately 20 years -- is unconstitutional.
Clairmont asked school representatives to request a clarification from DOR on its letter to the town. The board will then determine whether or not to fill the position.
Without the town-appointed nurse this year, the school has privately paid for a part-time nurse.
The Board of Health said that parents of students in St. Stanislaus can fill out a request form for their children to have basic tests, such as vision and hearing, done by a nurse.
Both parties agree the state constitution guarantees all students of schools both public and private a certain level of nursing services. The town and school disagree over how extensive those services can be if publicly funded in a private school.
Town Counsel Edmund St. John III has based his opposition to funding the position on his interpretation -- largely echoed by the DOR -- on Chapter 71, Section 75 of Massachusetts General Law.
That section of the law lays out the obligations a municipality has to its students, both public and private.
St. John said that the law, and the subsequent legal decisions based on it, require that the town make available basic testing services, but that the position at St. Stanislaus goes further than the law allows.
"One of the primary concerns I have is the legality or illegality of the town spending public taxpayer money on private enterprises," St. John said.
St. John said that he does not object to basic testing services being made available to St. Stanislaus students.
"Under the Massachusetts state constitution's anti-aid amendment, on its face, it's illegal to be spending public taxpayer money on things such as private schools."
Sister Jacqueline Kazanowski said that the school itself had never been funded with taxpayer money, only a third-party health-care provider.
Maurice Cahillane of the Springfield-based firm Egan, Flanagan, and Cohen, an attorney for the school, said the DOR's rationale "just doesn't make sense."
Cahillane said that the basic testing services are meant to be examples of allowable nursing services, not an exact list.
"It doesn't follow that every other kind would be unconstitutional," Cahillane said.
St. John also noted that the town could be subject to a lawsuit if it fills the position.
The town has been debating the issue for more than a decade.
"It's been an issue that's troubled me for many years," St. John said.
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