School Nurses Call On Lawmakers For Help

In one state where school nurses are overwhelmed with student needs, they are calling on lawmakers to change long-standing policies.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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school nurses

School staffing issues are being experienced across the nation, but it’s not just teaching and administrative positions that are in need. School nurses are treating more serious conditions with high student-to-nurse ratios. This has been an increasing issue for years, but the pandemic has exacerbated the situation to the point that nurses in Pennsylvania are calling on lawmakers to help update student healthcare practices

In Pennsylvania, there is one school nurse per every 1,500 students. This covers students in grades K-12. School nurses in the state are having trouble tending to so many students, and this is not just due to staffing issues, but also state staffing requirements and the fact that there are more students with chronic illnesses attending classes. 

The Pennsylvania Public School Code has not been updated since 1949. During that time the American population was less than half what it is now. In addition, at the time that the code was written, children with serious chronic illnesses were not able to be cared for at school. Now children with cancer, diabetes, and other severe health concerns are able to attend school so long as their treatments are properly given, but school nurses cannot possibly meet students’ needs under current conditions. The CDC has reported that more than 40% of schoolchildren have at least 1 chronic condition. That’s 600 children who often need daily treatments per nurse. 

Furthermore, The National Association of School Nurses reported in 2017 that 25.2% of schools in the US did not even employ a single school nurse, and only 39.3% employ full-time nurses. These numbers add up to a lot of work for one health care provider and plenty of gaps for students’ health to be neglected and lead to health issues. Especially being that many schools have cut costs and handled staffing shortages by requiring one school nurse to travel between multiple buildings.

This news comes after schools received billions of dollars in federal COVID aid to improve health and public safety standards. Pennsylvania schools received $5 billion in pandemic relief funds. Although the federal aid money came with no specific rules on spending, it was meant to help schools safely reopen and must be utilized by the fall of 2024 (unless an extension is approved). Surely some of these funds could be utilized to hire more school nurses to ensure that students’ health needs are met. 

Despite this, instead of asking district leaders and school boards to allocate COVID relief funds — which are already in these schools’ possession for public health matters — toward hiring more health care staff, school nurses are imploring politicians to pass updates to the Public School Code. This has been tried multiple times, and failed, as previous pieces of legislation addressing the issue have been stalled. While schools and lawmakers sit on this subject, students and the nurses who treat them are the ones bearing the brunt of a lack of proper health care staff. 

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School nurses have a serious job that requires skills and knowledge that other staff members do not have. They are truly essential to the health and wellness of students. The schools which employ them have the means to offer more support, as do the politicians who have yet to pass an updated School Code. Whether either will act remains to be seen.