In every human life, they will evidently get injured or hurt. May you be a child at the time or a full-grown adult, you still require medical assistance. Thus doctors and nurses became a necessity and held much prestige. Despite this, there is a group of nurses who do not hold the same prestige while helping hundreds of children each year: school nurses. Have ever heard, “I want to become a school nurse,” come out of a child’s mouth? Do you see advertisements encouraging respect for school nurses? Do you know your school nurse’s name? Does your school even have a nurse? Did you know that there’s a global nursing crisis? That nurses are few and far in between.
These people are unsung heroes of the public school system in America. School nurses are just as important as teachers in public schools because they are left responsible for taking care of the health and safety of the public school students while teachers focus on their classes. While many people are focusing on the teacher shortage in the US, the school nurse shortage grows. A report published and sponsored by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) looks into the number of school nurses in American public schools. According to the NCES, during the 2015-16 school year, slightly more than half (52 percent) of public schools had a full-time nurse. Including part-time nurses, more than three-quarters (82%) had at least one full-time or part-time nurse. This means 18 percent of public schools lack a school nurse while 30 percent of schools share part-time school nurses. This shortage of nurses can cause a variety of problems for students,parents, and teachers alike. The school nurse shortage leaves teachers unprepared to deal with injuries while parents struggle to find proper care for their children. School nurses are a necessity in public schools where thousands of U.S. children spend seven hours each day. Teachers in public schools already have so much responsibility and can’t be expected to deal with student illness or injury. The fact that there is a lack of school nurses brings light to the lack of government intervention when it comes to student safety.
The lack of school nurses can be explained by the lack of federal legislation because there is no federal law saying that school nurses are required per school. The idea that schools can go without nurses is ignorant at best and life-threatening at worst. In 2014, a sixth grader at Bryant Elementary School died from an asthma attack after falling sick while no nurse was on duty. This incident happened in a public school in Philadelphia and caused an outcry against the budget cuts. The shortage also leaves school nurses overworked as they try to cover multiple schools. This increases the possibility of students going without receiving treatment. This unacceptable circumstance is made worse because students will end up punished or wrongfully marked absent if they fail to show up out of fear for their safety. An article by the Healthy School Campaign (HSC) states “To understand how to reduce chronic absenteeism, an understanding of the reasons behind missed school days is key. One of the main reasons students miss school is due to both chronic and acute health conditions.” Chronic absenteeism mostly affects the students for they fail to pass when they feel they can’t come in because of their health issues. HSC believes understanding is the first step to the solution to fighting chronic absenteeism and providing solutions for those health-related causes. These solutions require knowledge and skill the average teacher does not have. With the added information from Safehome, a home security company that compiled and organized data from the NEISS, we see the possibility of school injury is more common than you might think. Safehome found that over the past decade, more than 175,000 school injuries have resulted in a visit to a hospital emergency department. Though Safehome also pointed out that injuries sustained at school had been on the decline between 2017 and 2019, this does not excuse the fact children are still getting injured at school. Children get hurt a lot and teachers can’t watch every student every second of the school day. Simply having a nurse on sight can save or prevent an injury from worsening so why are school children left without this important figure?
The terrifying part of this is that no one is speaking about this here in the US. Teachers, students, and nurses are left to suffer as mainstream media fails to cover this issue. Covid 19 adds to the issue as nurses are left to pick up the pace to protect students’ health while having to deal with parents. In an article by NPR, we can see school nurses share their grievances in 2022 about dealing with Covid 19. One nurse states, “Our school nurses are exhausted,” Gavin says. “I think last year I had said school nurses felt like the weight of the pandemic was on their shoulders. We’re on our knees now, with the weight of the pandemic on our shoulders.” These underappreciated nurses are left to their own devices as Covid 19 fits of rage on while their voices fall on deaf ears. The lack of information on this subject affects this op-ed and my ability to shed light on this issue.
If this issue is not taken seriously we may end up in a scenario like Ontario, Canada. On August 30, 2021, the CBC posted an article going over how parents who have medically fragile children are left to suffer with no option of remote learning. These children will end up behind in their education to protect their health because of the school nurse shortage.
School nurses should be required by federal law. The budget cuts to public schools don’t only affect teachers but nurses’ ability to treat students. A school nurse does not only provide the peace of mind of knowing you or your child is safe but respect for students. Students throughout the USA are being left to their own devices as they are left injured and disrespected. Students need a person they can rely on in these medical emergencies where their parents are not there. If you are someone who is studying nursing perhaps look into a school nurse position. It is up to both parents and students to fight for awareness on this issue, and talk to people about bringing attention to school nurses and the respect they deserve. In a few states, people are voting for legislation to be passed to ensure their schools have nurses; if you live in one of those states please vote.