City schools dial 911 thousands of times each year to take sick kids to the hospital, but often, it's not the severity of the illness that requires an ambulance, but a missing piece of paperwork. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
In some neighborhoods, like Harlem, one-quarter of children have the same disease.
"I have a kid who suffers from asthma, and she's been hospitalized three times in the ER for that," said one parent.
Asthma rates are much higher here than in the rest of the country. More than 177,000 kids under the age of 13 have it.
"Each child should have a plan that can effectively control their asthma, and this should allow them to focus on learning while they're in school," said Dr. Delaney Gracy of the Children's Health Fund.
Schools, though, can't help, or even let students use potentially life-saving medicine, if they don't have parents' permission.
"We have to call EMS. We have no other choice. We have nothing else that we can do within a school if we don't have the proper forms for your child," said Ernest Logan, president of the principals' union. "So we have to make the traumatic issue here of putting your child in the ambulance, sending an adult with them, and meet you at the hospital."
What's more, educators say, is that they also struggle to get parents' contact information.
"That becomes a really big problem because then, the child is not only sick, but is also scared because mommy or daddies are not able to be contacted," said Stella Kostopoulos, assistant principal with P.S. 239 in Queens. "And then somebody, a staff member has to go with them to the emergency room."
The principals' union has launched a $50,000 subway ad campaign with the Children's Health Fund reminding parents to hand in children's forms when school starts.
When NY1 asked the Department of Education how often schools are missing these critical health forms, officials said that last year, nearly 60 percent of students with asthma did not submit the form to their school.
So how often do schools have to call 911 for medical emergencies? NY1 was told it was more than 15,000 times in 2011-12. One-quarter of the calls were for accidents, while more than 40 percent were for illnesses, like asthma. It added up to 6,252 illness-related 911 calls.
And then, there's attendance.
"Asthma is one of the biggest reasons why we don't have children coming in every day," Kostopoulos said.
NY1 also asked the city for data on that. Officials said that students with persistent asthma missed an average of nearly three weeks of school, a week more than other students.
Educators and doctors said the solution starts with letting schools help by giving them the right information and permission.