I love helping colleagues come up with talking points for when they are facing either their school districts or journalists. I owe all I know to nurse media strategist, Barbara Glickstein. She has taught me well and I pass her wisdom on to others. The other day I was debriefing the myriad of school happenings with one of my best school nursing buddies; someone I want in my COVID foxhole. We were having a lively discussion about how COVID has impacted school nursing practice and how can we best describe what it feels like or looks like. I said something like “COVID is tearing at the fabric of our profession.” It hit us both hard because it does feel like school nursing is being ripped apart beyond the seams, but at the literal fabric of what we hold so dear, the purpose of our practice.
One of the most egregious reasons is that some districts are implementing COVID response protocols without input from the end-user, the school nurse. Creating quasi-health departments embedded in school nurses’ offices that do not include proper staffing is meaningless and abusive, especially in the midst of a pandemic. We are working against the clock, against the politicization of a public health emergency, and most of all against our oath to care for and protect children. COVID is an airborne virus, it is invisible, insidious, and invasive. We cannot pretend that we can protect anyone in this environment where the unvaccinated and unmasked refuse to see a world outside of their own belief systems grounded in misinformation and disinformation.
In some school districts across the country school nurses are doing contact tracing, reporting testing results to parents if tests are being done in schools, identifying close contacts for quarantining, reassuring students and staff, and answering the myriad of questions that arise every day. Some have also been tasked with collecting COVID vaccination attestations if their state has a mandate. School nurses are peforming “test to stay” protocols, surveillance testing, and/or pooled testing. Did I mention one thing related to pre-COVID school nursing responsibilities? One colleague said her day consists of contact tracing and mental health support for students and staff; there is no time or bandwidth left for anything else.
ESSER funds were supposed to be plentiful to provide supports for school health. Where are the funds being channeled? Testing companies are making huge profits on the backs of exhausted school nurses who are being dragged into additional duties without the necessary supports and staffing. The abusive environments created in school districts across the country due to the lack of acceptance by some of the community to participate in universal masking, vaccination, and simple requests like staying home when sick has created a perfect storm of incivility, parental and staff exhaustion with students caught in the fray.
Specifically, ARP ESSER funds may be used to develop strategies and implement public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on reopening and operating schools to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff… retrieved from: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION FACT SHEET American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOL EMERGENCY RELIEF FUND (ARP ESSER)
ARP ESSER funds may be used specifically for “reopening and operating schools to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff.” School districts have the capability to create building-level COVID task forces that will support the work that school nurses are doing. But why isn’t this happening? Talk to most school nurses and you will find a workforce that has reached the tipping point. Here is a glimpse of recent news stories that should get the attention of every school board across the country.
Columbus City School nurses declare COVID emergency; their union wants vaccines or testing Megan Henry The Columbus Dispatch
The Back-to-School Nightmare Five school nurses on parent protests, sick kids, and school shutdowns in the first month back in classrooms. By Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz
Philly’s school nurses are exhausted as staff shortages and COVID-19 double their workload
Nurses Warn Staffing Levels Could Complicate COVID Testing in Vermont Schools
We want to keep our schools open and our students and staff safe. We cannot maintain this pace without support, proper staffing and onsite contact tracing administrative help. Solutions are plentiful, funding is available, immediate action is needed.