School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: When Nurses Who are Parents Speak Out, School Boards Should Be Listening

Beth Toner, nurse, mom and communications specialist is using her well-honed skills to speak out to her son’s board of education about their health and safety plan for the 2021-2022 school year. Beth was concerned that the plan did not include universal masking regardless of vaccination status. While she could not attend the meeting in person, Beth did submit written testimony to ensure her voice was heard. She spoke as a mom, nurse and private citizen and did not represent her employer. We can all follow Beth’s lead and submit testimony to our boards of education where we live and/or work. Here is Beth’s message, we can consider using it as a template (she gave her permission):

Dear OJR School Board of Directors:

I’m sending this email ahead of tomorrow’s Board meeting to discuss the proposed Health and Safety Plan for the 2021-2022 school year, as I will unfortunately be out of town and unable to attend live or via Zoom.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to each and every one of you for the work you all have done–in rapidly changing, ever-ambiguous circumstances–to adapt to a once-in-a-century pandemic. Thank you for focusing on keeping teachers, staff, and students safe, and balancing the demands of a variety of stakeholders and our students’ need to learn and grow. I appreciate your service to the school district and our community.

That’s why I was deeply concerned when I received Superintendent Stout’s Friday, August 13 email regarding this year’s return-to-school plan. As a nurse with experience in community health and public health philanthropy, I was alarmed to discover that the school district is not requiring universal masking when students and staff return to school, despite clear guidance and science from both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics to the contrary; that guidance–given the emergence of the Delta variant of COVID-19–recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”

Masks are not a political statement; they are good science, especially given the reality that our students under 12 are unable to get vaccinated against this virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans. The Delta variant is much more transmissible than strains circulating during the 2020-2021 school year; early evidence seems to show it infects more children and causes more serious illness. One group of researchers at North Carolina State University found, in school-level modeling, that “without masks or regular testing, up to 90% of susceptible students may become infected by the end of the semester.” Furthermore, consider the fact that masks also provide a measure of protection against other contagious diseases–the common cold, influenza, and more–illnesses that are common during the school year. Given the impact the last 17 months has had on our students, wouldn’t it make sense to use every weapon in our arsenal to keep our students healthy and attending in-person school?

The simple safety measure of masking is also not just about the health of students and staff; it’s also about the health of our community. Consider the impact one ill child may have on an immunocompromised family member or elderly loved one. A mask represents a few hours of inconvenience to prevent needless illness and death. 

I understand that a decision to go to universal masking for this school year may be an unpopular one, but the favorable opinion of the masses shouldn’t trump science. Requiring masks sends a clear signal to our students that sometimes it is necessary to do hard things in the moment to create a better future for all of us.

As a health care professional who has seen too many in my profession suffer and die needlessly, and as a deeply concerned parent, I ask you to please restore universal masking for the 2021-2022 school year until we receive evidence and guidance that it is no longer necessary.

Thank you for all you do,

Beth Toner (mother of a rising freshman)


Elizabeth A. Toner

Bio: Beth Toner, RN, MJ, MSN, senior communications officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has more than 25 years of experience in marketing and corporate communications. She is also a registered nurse with clinical experience in long-term care and community health settings.


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