FRENCHTOWN - The idea, as Frenchtown School's Web site explains, is to offer "quality health care for all ages through a cost-efficient model."
But there are those who take issue with the opening of a private health clinic in the school's new junior high building.
CostCare of Missoula arrived in Frenchtown last month to set up a weekly practice on school grounds. The clinic opens its doors every Wednesday afternoon to anyone who needs medical attention unless they're Medicare patients (because of the program's Part B regulations).
It saves a 20-mile trip to the doctor in Missoula and it's inexpensive: A base fee of $45, though procedures, lab and X-rays cost more.
Especially with the recent closure of the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. plant, it's a good deal for the Frenchtown area, said School Superintendent Randy Cline, though he added that the idea arose before word of the plant's demise came out.
"It's a community program that we set up as a public service," Cline said.
It's also a lawsuit waiting to happen, maintains Kris Schermele, who has two children in Frenchtown schools.
"There are just so many issues that this opens up for liability, and for putting our children in jeopardy," Schermele said Thursday.
Sherry Sherwood, also a Frenchtown School parent, concurred.
"One, I'm worried about the safety of our kids," she said. "And two, I just think it's wrong for them to allow sick people into the school while school's in progress. We're told as parents if our kids are sick to keep them home. Now we're inviting ill people into our school?"
"Who's going to monitor who's coming in?" Schermele wonders. "We could have registered sex offenders just walk into our school during school hours while our children are in session."
Both women also wonder about other security issues.
"I think Missoula has a fairly good prescription drug problem going on, and I think it's just another avenue for people to get hold of prescription drugs," Sherwood said.
Cline assured that there are no prescription drugs on campus. The physician writes prescriptions to be filled elsewhere.
After four clinic Wednesdays, which have drawn four or five people at the most, student safety hasn't been a problem, Cline said.
Patients are isolated from the classroom areas and use different bathrooms.
"At no time do we allow any members of the public, including parents, to roam the building without checking into the office and receiving a visitor's pass/badge," Cline said. "Teachers are instructed to immediately report anyone in the building without a plainly visible visitor's badge."
He added that on one Wednesday afternoon a month there aren't even any students at the school because it's an early out.
"We don't see it as a problem in that direction the way (Schermele) sees it," Cline said.
Schermele has other issues as well. She sees the clinic as school-sponsored competition to Frenchtown's established walk-in clinic.
"It's such a short window that's available - five hours a week, one day a week," he said.
A school "competing" with private business is nothing new.
"We do it all the time," Cline said. "Maybe not so much on that great a scale, but basically when you allow someone to use the school for a craft fair, or you allow a book fair. Even with graduation, you allow Jostens or some other company to come in and perform a service to the school district at no cost."
There's nothing illegal about a public school renting out space to a business.
"There are statutes in Montana that permit them to enter into leases," said Missoula lawyer Elizabeth Kaleva.
Kaleva, a former attorney for the Montana School Boards Association, she said she's never heard of a school housing a medical clinic, but leasing statutes don't dictate what can go on at a school as long as it's not something that otherwise is not allowed on school property.
"You can't smoke on school property, so they couldn't have a tobacco shop," she said.
"I own a real estate and property management in Missoula," Schermele said. "With Stone Container shutting down, I want to open up a real estate office in the school. That's a community service."
She told Cline as much.
"What I said to her was fill out the facility use form and we'll consider it," he said.
According to Cline, Laurel has a similar medical clinic in its schools, "although I believe they confine it just to students and employees. They don't do it with the entire community."
The CostCare idea was broached last year by the district's insurance committee as an option for employees covered by the district health insurance plan.
"Eventually it evolved into not just (employees) but an outreach to the community as a community service plan," said Cline.
Schermele said even though one of her kids attends the junior high, which opened next to the high school in September, she didn't learn about the clinic's presence in the building until last Friday. She was searching on the school Web site for her kids' grades and saw a flier for the clinic on the home page.
"You don't just have one insurance meeting and say, ‘Oh, here's what we're going to do,' " she said. "This was never fully disclosed in the school board report that comes out to the public."
Schermele asked at Tuesday's school board meeting that the issue be placed on next month's agenda. Cline said it would be.
The jury's out on whether the clinic will be continued beyond May.
"Of course, CostCare is going to have to evaluate it to see if it's cost efficient to continue doing it," Cline said. "And we're going to re-evaluate it at the end of the school year to see whether it's a viable exercise or not."
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at email@example.com.