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Why aren’t high-level nurses in every school now?

Two state legislators want to force Virginia’s K-12 public schools to hire more registered nurses – especially now during a pandemic that’s ravaging people across the United States.

And here’s all I could think: You mean, we don’t already have RNs in in every school? What kind of nonsensical, sanctioned penny-pinching is this?

The Chesley Trio has long since graduated from high school, so I wasn’t attuned to everything that’s mandated inside our educational buildings. Still, I was stunned by the current state of non-medical attention.

My colleague Kate Masters recently reported on the efforts by Sen. Jen Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, to place such health-care workers in more schools in the commonwealth. The two legislators will submit bills during next week’s special session, which will focus on police procedures and the ongoing threat of COVID-19.

The moves promoted by Kiggans and Adams would require local school divisions to hire at least one registered nurse on every campus. Adams’ bill also has a budget amendment that would require the state to fund 60 percent of all new nursing positions.

School nurses aren’t built into the state’s Standards of Quality right now. I’m not surprised.

Legislators often seem prouder of saying “We’re a low-tax state!” than providing the money that pays for certain “frills” – like school nurses and a competent transportation system – that fall under their responsibility.

Kiggans and Adams are both licensed nurse practitioners. Kiggans told me by email, through one of her staffers, that the exact cost of her proposal is still being calculated.

That’s an important factor in this debate. So is keeping schoolchildren healthy.

Kiggans said her legislation is important because the registered nurses would be part of a team that helps establish guidelines for a safe return to classrooms. Several divisions have already said they’ll have only online learning this fall.

“School nurses would be involved in assessment of students, COVID prevention and infection control, contact tracing, and education about COVID and prevention of spreading COVID,” Kiggans said. “After the pandemic is over, nurses would be used as health educators and continue to treat students with acute health concerns.”

As much as everyone is grappling with the coronavirus, I’m thinking about that phrase “after the pandemic is over.” Surely, there’s more than enough for registered nurses to do every school day.

They’re involved in a lot more than taking temperatures and putting bandages on cuts.

The National Association of School Nurses advocates for professional nurses on school campuses. It notes that 91 percent of nurses screen students to identify children at risk and help them get care. The suburban Washington, D.C., organization also says 58 percent of school nurses’ time involves providing direct services, including catheterizations, blood glucose testing and suctioning tracheotomies.

Those are serious procedures. We shouldn’t depend on teachers or office staffers to try to tackle them.

It’s difficult to know how many nurses cover the schools in Virginia currently because of the way positions are budgeted and the various classifications of health-care workers.

But it’s clear that every school doesn’t have a nurse all the time, much less registered nurses. As one website notes, you generally have to earn an associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s of science in nursing to have a career as a RN. That means they’ve been in the classroom themselves a certain minimum amount of time, receiving important training.

Many children already have access to health care through their parents. But crises or flare-ups can occur during school hours – assuming our children eventually get back inside the classroom.

I doubt the nursing proposal will go far during the special session that begins next week. It’s clear the funding and operations of police departments will be in the forefront for many legislators after the videotaped slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis, while he was in police custody.

That doesn’t mean the nursing proposal is trivial. If we’re serious about taking care of children, this is a cost we must be willing to consider – and pay for.