The challenges of COVID-19 are immeasurable but in the midst of the uncertainty, there have been some absolute shining moments. The importance of school nursing has certainly been highlighted through this global pandemic. School nurses have stepped into the center of the chaos, canvassing their local and state decision-makers to include our voices in planning school reopening. New Jersey is no exception.
The New Jersey State School Nurses Association (NJSSNA) has been participating via Zoom, in Legislative and Department of Education committee meetings focused on the impact of COVID19 and re-entry planning for schools. The obstacles grow daily as we gain a clearer understanding of the virus.
NJSSNA was invited to present concerns and solutions to the NJ Education Recovery Taskforce, as we prepare to reopen our schools. We shared health and safety considerations, addressed trauma, grief, and mental health concerns, the challenges of mass COVID-19 screenings, and the need for proper PPE. We highlighted specific legislation that may need to be waived, upheld, or revised due to the pandemic. We centered our comments on the health and well-being of our students and shared that communication barriers exist because we do not have representation at the NJ Department of Education or the NJ Department of Health.
The NJ Senate Education Recovery Task Force, led by Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, heard our message and took actionable steps to fill a gap in leadership that has been missing at the state level for many years. NJ has never had the position of a State School Nurse Consultant. Forty-four states have at least one, NJ has zero. Until now!
This week, Senator Ruiz submitted S-2573: Establishes the position of State School Nurse Consultant in DOE to promote quality school nursing services and school health programs. The press release included this statement:
“One thing the school nurses stressed during our Education Recovery Taskforce meeting on health and safety was the need for a statewide school nurse consultant,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Especially as we look towards reopening our schools and adjusting to the new normal, strong lines of communication between the Department of Education, the Department of Health and our school nurses will be crucial. Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the consultant will help to strengthen our health programs and ensure all districts are meeting high quality standards.” – Senator Ruiz
Here is the bill, it is currently in the NJ Senate Education Committee, so one step at a time! But, this is a moment to celebrate the voices of school nurses being heard and acted upon. Our greatest appreciation to Senator Ruiz and her team for your leadership, partnership, and care for the students of NJ.