These last few weeks, setting aside the last few years, have been filled with illness at school. Sending home student after student with multiple symptoms that could be Flu, RSV, or COVID. Of course, since we are not testing, masking, or doing anything that resembles mitigation strategies, the numbers are climbing. Calling parents, explaining symptoms, recommendations for care, and asking for medical clearance in some cases, were not all received well. I do understand, everyone is exhausted and in many cases totally out of sick days, making it an extra hardship to pick students up early and keep them home for a number of days. Maybe one solution, while a huge stretch, can be found in overnight camp nursing.
I spent ten summers as an overnight camp nurse, in fact, that is why I became a school nurse. In a previous life, decades ago, I was an occupational health nurse for a railroad. When the railroad was bought out in the late 90s, I was out of work and my young twin daughters wanted to go to overnight camp, so we went together. That summer was a life changer for many reasons, the biggest one was my decision to become a school nurse. For any readers of this blog, who have spent time at overnight camp, you know the magic of camp, it stays with you. For our family, it became our summer ritual for years, even my husband loved camp.
This brings me to camp, where during the day (and night) we separated our sick campers from the rest of the camp in an effort to limit the spread of illnesses. This practice could be replicated in schools. It might be a pipedream, but imagine if a school district was able to accommodate students who are not well enough to be in class, but whose parents do not have the ability to stay home. These are the Social Determinants of Education that school health policies do not address. What if schools provided an infirmary, staffed with school nurses and nursing assistants, perhaps a centralized place in a district for those students who needed care? I know, I can hear the naysayers, the liability, the problems, the dissenters, but what if…what if this were possible?
This conversation began with a series of Tweets that were focused on family-friendly solutions.
Our systems are stretched beyond capacity. Every day I read about school nurses deciding to quit because they are feeling unsupported & can no longer tolerate intolerable work conditions. I understand that parents may not have sick days or a support system.— Robin Cogan (@RobinCogan) November 30, 2022
Listen, really listen & empathize with parents who also suffered the last 3 yrs, concerned about many school days kids missed & how the many sick days they've taken for ill children impact their ability to keep jobs. Empathy for parents, moms would be a positive @schoolnurses— Martha Bergren (@bergren) November 30, 2022
Thanks for the reply. We have known for decades that childcare benefits children, families, communities, society, taxpayers. Yes, we should invest in family friendly solutionshttps://t.co/ptPf17yBys— Martha Bergren (@bergren) December 1, 2022
Thank you, Dr. Martha Bergren, for always asking thought-provoking questions and reminding us to center the student and family in policies. While this may be a far-reaching option, why not turn health services upside down and inside out to reinvent how we care for students, families, and staff? Education Justice calls for disruptive solutions to our most challenging issues.
2 thoughts on “The Relentless School Nurse: The Social Determinants of Education”
As always, a thoughtful and thought provoking summary of where we are at. We need to start somewhere.. at least one nurse every school would be a great place! When there is no nurse, who is doing the screening and assessment of those children who are ill? Who is making the appropriate recommendations for care and follow up? Who is able to develop and support decision making across schools and districts?
Thanks Meg, it is something to consider. We have to revisit needs in light of all that is happening.