Whether they're bandaging skinned knees, managing tummy troubles, or soothing sore throats, school nurses seem to have a way of caring for kids with an unmatched level of compassion. In the middle of a global health pandemic, what school nurses want parents to know this year is that their job now is more important than ever.
While plans for school re-openings are in a seemingly constant state of flux thanks to the current state of affairs, it's crucial for parents to keep in mind that the role of a school nurse is of the utmost importance.
"Parents and school nurses are partners in student health," Laurie G. Combe, a Registered Nurse (R.N.), Nationally Certified School Nurse (NCSN), and President of the National Association of School Nurses tells Romper.
Combe notes that 25% of schools throughout the country do not have a school nurse on staff, and 35% of schools only employ part-time nurses. Because of this, regardless of whether or not students return for in-person instruction, Combe says parents should advocate for one to be hired "to help students be safe, healthy, and available for learning."
For the upcoming school year, school nurses are looking for support in terms of implementing safety protocols in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. "For schools where a school nurse is present, parents can ask about the infection control prevention and intervention plan, and how parents/families can do their part of following the plan," Combe says. "More specifically, parents can familiarize themselves with their schools plan to keep students, families and staff safe. It will help the school nurse when the parent takes responsibility for their part of the plan."
This means making sure your child understands the importance of wearing their masks and social distancing, learning how to perform symptom and temperature checks prior to sending your child to school, and keeping them home when they're sick. "It is important that parents follow their school’s policies and guidelines in all of these areas," Combe explains.
At the end of the day, school nurses want to make the lives of our children (and thereby our lives as parents) easier, not harder. "Please know these guidelines are in place to keep students and staff healthy. They are not in place to be controlling or to unnecessarily exclude children," school nurse Ashleigh Morris, R.N. tells Romper. "I absolutely understand the struggles that some parents face and I know we don’t live in a perfect world. It can be almost impossible for some parents to follow these guidelines due to lack of resources — finances, childcare, etc. If you are experiencing hardship, reach out to your school nurse and/or counselor."
One former Houston-area school nurse who is currently getting her certification as a nurse practitioner tells Romper that teaching proper hand-hygiene and respiratory etiquette is one vital lesson that starts at home. "You’d be surprised how many kiddos truly don’t know when, or how to properly, wash their hands. Especially with our current pandemic, washing hands frequently — and for at least 20 seconds — is key," she says. "Parents are such great examples, so modeling the behavior at home is awesome."
And what about those pesky sneezes and coughs that little kids seem to sputter everywhere? School nurses agree that teaching kids to "dab" into their elbow will help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets. Plus, many schools will require masks to help with this as well.
Another way to help support your school nurse is by screening your child daily for respiratory distress, serious injury, vomiting, diarrhea, or a fever of 100.4 or greater, and then keeping them home if these symptoms are present. "Fever is apparently not a top side effect or indicator of COVID-19, but we seem to have forgotten other illnesses, so fever rule still stands," school nurse Jessica Rash, R.N. tells Romper. "Watch for symptoms and any new developments."
By being diligent with following guidelines and recommendations, school nurses say we can get through this time safely. "We are working hard in trainings and figuring out ways to keep their children safe," Rash says. "Keeping them up to date with checkups, vaccinations, dental care — as clinics allow — are very helpful. Eating right and still getting outside sun time is helpful for their development, sanity, and immune system."
In schools where students won't be attending in-person, Combe explains that school nurses will still be heavily involved in student care, it just might look different from what parents are used to seeing. "School nurses are creating virtual health offices and creating online education modules to support students, families, and staff," Combe says. "They are participating in return to school planning, and educating staff on COVID-19 infection control measures, and disseminating updates from local health departments."
From helping with meal deliveries to answering parent phone calls, school nurses are still a vital part of the equation in a virtual school scenario. Combe says many will be charged with staying up-to-date on new COVID-19 stats, updating school health plans and policies as needed. They can also provide virtual visits, help manage chronic health conditions for students, and even assist families whose students may not be adapting well to virtual learning and need help developing solutions.
"Whether in-person or virtual learning occurs, students are facing new or increased social, emotional, and mental health challenges due to the uncertainty, grief, and fear brought by the COVID-19 pandemic that will need to be addressed," Combe tells Romper. "School nurses, along with mental and behavioral health staff, provide support to students to address these challenges. There is a need for significant federal funding to hire/retain school nurses for public school districts and schools to prioritize student health, mental health, and safety."
Laurie G. Combe, M.N., R.N., N.C.S.N., President, National Association of School Nurses
Ashleigh Morris, R.N., school nurse in Texas
Jessica Rash, R.N., school nurse in Texas