A school nurse's job is complex and essential
In the CH-UH school district, we have six school nurses. The salaries of these individuals have been highly criticized by levy opponents, even though they are on the same pay scale as social workers, counselors and program specialists. The argument has been that we should not have to spend so much for nursing services. It may be helpful [for critics] to know what our school nurses do and what they are responsible for before making assumptions about their worth.
Our school nurses have Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing and are registered nurses. More than half hold master’s degrees in education, and all are licensed as school nurses—a rigorous certification with many requirements, including a 300-hour practicum with a licensed school nurse.
All district nurses had at least 10 years of experience in nursing before CH-UH hired them. They are responsible for the welfare of every child in our schools, as well as for the adults.
Administering medications, monitoring students with diabetes, making critical decisions, screening students for vision and hearing, and administering to sick children are all par for the course in a typical day.
Yet school nurses do even more as part of their regular responsibilities. They are called in as experts during meetings to determine accommodations for students with special needs. They are part of the teams that meet in each building regarding the needs of students who are struggling. They bring a different perspective through their medical knowledge and contact with [students’] homes. Their advocacy maximizes the ability of our students to learn.
Our nurses have to document everything they do, from logging in the hundreds of visits to the nurse’s office in each building to following up on immunizations. Nurses help create personalized health care plans, and follow up with students who are often absent to determine if there is a health issue the family and student need help managing. Countless students have daily and emergency medications that the nurse administers or trains others to administer.
Many do not realize the number of medically fragile students that are served in our buildings, nor how many students have chronic conditions, such as seizures, food allergies or sickle cell, that require a trained professional to monitor. Our nurses manage everything from feeding tubes to educating students on how to use an inhaler. Teaching students how to prevent medical episodes whenever possible is a regular part of their job. Our nurses also consult for students who are in private schools, as required by law, in addition to their regular building assignments.
As Caroline Champion wrote in a collection of stories by school nurses [“The Truth About School Nursing” from A Long Way From Henry Street, published by William V. MacGill & Co.]: “A school nurse must be good at everything, not only emergency care, but also nursing assessment, chronic illness management, complex medical conditions, epidemiology, prevention, safety teaching, screening, communicating, care management, policy development, grant-writing, employee health, legal issues, politics, advocacy care plan development, pharmacology, computer documentation, and now RTI, response to intervention.”
School nurses must be organized and experienced in order to perform their complex jobs. We cannot educate students without their vital services. There is no way that this kind of work could be managed if it was not done by the district’s own health care experts. These six nurses are among the most overlooked and least understood employees in our district. I believe they are fairly compensated and know that we would be in deep trouble without their expertise.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.