On April 12th my school district will reopen for in-person learning. We have not been back in our brick-and-mortar buildings for more than one year. Like all school nurses across our country, I have been steeped in COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, but this next phase is different. I have listened, watched, and supported colleagues as they have faced the enormous challenges of returning to school. Now it is my turn and I am anxious. I am worried that I might miss something; concerned that people will not be truthful about their spring break travel plans; anxious that cooperation with mitigation strategies will be met with COVID fatigue. This is a very different kind of feeling than being anxious before the first day of school, which is met with anticipation and excitement, not this time.
We are bringing back our youngest and most impacted students first in a hybrid capacity. Preschool through second grade, along with special education groups will precede third through eighth-graders. We are not sure about our high schoolers just yet. I have participated in months and months of re-entry meetings. School nurses have had a seat at the planning table. Now it is time for implementation, that is where the rubber meets the road. Not all of our school nurse protocols have been accepted, some like temperature checks, which we did not recommend, have been implemented. This is a pick your battle moment and it does feel like a battle. Although, being fully vaccinated does make me feel more protected. But what about my teacher and school staff colleagues? They have just had the vaccine available to them as of March 15th, so most will not be fully vaccinated.
Do you feel my angst? It is a feeling shared by school nurses and school staff across the country who, like me are about to experience reentry. The added responsibilities of contact tracing weigh heavily on my mind. I have watched colleagues feel the weight of round-the-clock 24/7 reporting of positive cases. It has been disheartening listening to school nurses share their experiences of being disrespected, yelled at, hung up on, and accused of over-reaching when implementing COVID-19 health and safety protocols for students who are symptomatic at school. Colleagues have shared their sheer exhaustion from this COVID year, a school year like none other. We commiserate about another school year of COVID in 2021-2022. We are already concerned about the fall. But now, I am stepping into a world that so many of my colleagues have already been.
Wish me luck, as I wish many of my colleagues a safe reentry, mostly in urban districts like mine returning to face-to-face learning after spring break. I think it helps to say that I am anxious out loud. It is important to name the feeling to break down the stigma of needing support. Hopefully, if a school nurse reads this post and feels the same way, you will reach out and share your concerns. You are not alone. Dipping my toe into the deep end of the COVID ocean feels unnerving. I will not drown though because of what I have learned over these many months from the amazing school nurses across the country who have proven it can be done.