Connecting the dots for health, education and safety is paramount if schools across the Commonwealth are going to re-open. It would be negligent for the Governor, the Public Health Commissioner, the legislature and the Kentucky Board of Education to recommend schools re-open without school nurses present in all schools, every day, all day. The Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force for the re-opening of schools should regard school health as a core component of public health.
We applaud school districts, their board members and superintendents who have advocated for school nurses; however, in Kentucky, there is great disparity among children who have access to a school nurse and those who do not. Data from the Kentucky Department of Education indicate that approximately one third of Kentucky school districts do not have school nurses.
The Kentucky Nurses Association School Task Force has emphasized the need for more school nurses since 2014, but funding has always been a barrier. This is not a partisan issue, and with the COVID-19 pandemic at our doorstep, the health of students and faculty should be a priority for funding. When funds were made available for Senate Bill 1, school counselors at a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students were funded, but pathetically, school nurses were not included in that bill. Designated funds should be allocated to support the need for school health and safety to support a school nurse as a member of the school-based community team. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one nurse for every 750 students; however, in many Kentucky school districts, the ratio is one nurse for more than 8,000 students.
We are most appreciative that both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor included the need for hiring more school nurses in their campaign platform, even before we faced this pandemic crisis. Now is a critical time to start focusing on the total health and well-being of students.
The Governor continues to talk about inequalities in the state’s health care system. A comprehensive health approach would ensure that all children have daily access to a school nurse who can identify conditions early, communicate with their families and connect them with appropriate resources. During a pandemic, there is an even greater need for a nurse in every school, working with at-risk children and their families.
Our schools need to be re-opened for students; there are too many unintended consequences for students if they do not. Sending children and staff into schools without a nurse is irresponsible, especially during a health crisis. It is unthinkable and inexcusable not to have nurses in every school across this state, especially now.
We urge parents and grandparents to contact their local superintendent’s office or school board members and ask how many nurses are in the district and what the plan is to increase that number so that there is a nurse in every school, every day, all day! If determined that a school district lacks school nurses, we encourage you to call your state senator, representative and the Governor. We need you to be the voice for our Kentucky children! It is what they should expect from us all.
Patricia V. Burkhart, PhD, RN, FAAN
Lois Davis, MSN, RN
Carol Komara, MSN, RN
Members, Kentucky Nurses Association Task Force on School Nurses