NC lawmakers aim to increase school nurses amid COVID-19 pandemic

Thursday, June 18, 2020
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With the COVID-19 pandemic and the hope of getting students back in classrooms by August, there is a push by some North Carolina lawmakers to get a nurse in every school.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- With the COVID pandemic and the hope of getting students back in classrooms by August, there is a push by some North Carolina lawmakers to get a nurse in every school.

Democratic State Senator Wiley Nickel is one of the sponsors of a bill that would require a permanent, full-time nurse in each school.

"Over 10% of our state's population goes through the doors of our of our public schools in North Carolina, and one of the easiest things we can do to prevent the spread to our kids and at home to our parents and our grandparents, is to make sure that every school has a full-time nurse at their school," Nickel said.

Right now, only 46% of the districts in North Carolina meet the federally recommended ratio of one nurse to every 750 students.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools and Orange County Schools do make the grade, but Wake County Public School System and Durham Public Schools don't meet that federal recommendation.

Nickel is trying to change that.

"Right now teachers are so overworked as it is and if you add this, this huge public health concern about making sure you know, following the proper practices, social distancing where we can, and all that is gonna fall on our teachers even more than it already does if we don't guarantee a nurse in every school," Nickel said.

House Bill 1203 and a companion bill, Senate Bill 850, would increase the number of school social workers, counselors, and psychologists.

Troubleshooter Diane Wilson first investigated the issue last year. We showed you how many schools in our state, including right here in the Triangle, don't have a nurse assigned to their school full time, leaving teachers and front office staff to tackle the daily medical needs of students.

Across the state, the number of nurses has increased over the years but there is still around 1,021 students for every one nurse statewide, according to 2018-19 data.

The National Association of School Nurses reported the likelihood that a child goes back to class rather than to the emergency room increases if they see a registered nurse.

Crystal Wilkinson, a Wake County mom of four, said there's no doubt if students return to school in August it will be different, and she's wondering how the district will protect kids and staff from COVID-19.

"Without a nurse, I'm not sure how they are going to do it, temperature screening, making sure the kids are separated." Wilkinson said.

RELATED: Wake County school board supports virtual learning as option for parents who don't feel comfortable sending kids back

She said the school nurse at her kids' school is great, but she's not there full-time, and when her kids do have daily medical needs, the front desk staff or teacher handle it since the nurse is not always there.

Senator Nickel said the proposed bill does come with a price tag of $102 million a year extra to add a nurse to every school, but he said he claims half of those funds could come from the federal government.

"These are the things we need to do if we're going to reopen our schools, and one of them is just the most basic thing you can do is to say, if you're going to reopen the school, there should be a nurse there," he said.

Wilkinson said the $102 million price tag shouldn't be a factor.

"It's crazy that they can say that we can't afford to put a nurse in every school when you're talking about the health and safety and wellbeing of our kids," Wilkinson said.

RELATED: NC teachers, education experts worry lack of attendance will negatively impact students' learning, wellbeing

Right now, the bill has not moved in the House or the Senate; we will keep up updated on its progress and how schools plan to tackle the medical needs involving COVID if there is no nurse in each school full time.

What can we help you with? View our COVID-19 information and resources page here