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Bill could require RNs in all schools

State Senator Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) will be submitting a bill during this month’s Special Session that would require public schools hire a registered nurse for each school level.

Area superintendents have concerns regarding the legislation.

Gina Bellamy, president of the Virginia Association of School Nurses, says the Virginia Department of Education has no recognized definition of a school nurse, meaning school divisions can fill the role of a school nurse by hiring unlicensed assistive personnel such as health aides or nurse aides. Some school divisions even have secretaries, teacher assistants or parent volunteers act as the school nurse.

This poses a number of concerns, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

“While this might be a budget-friendly option, it’s not very prudent,” Bellamy said. “These health aides are unlicensed personnel who do not have the required skills nor professional training to assess nor truly help during this pandemic. Additionally, they must receive direction and supervision from a registered nurse.”

Bellamy highlighted the key to mitigating the coronavirus may be found in requiring that every Virginia school district employ professional registered nurses.

“It is not a matter of ‘if’ a student or staff member tests positive, it is a matter of ‘when.’ And it is the onsite registered nurse with their skillset in assessing, triaging, isolating, contact tracing, and collaborating with the Virginia Dept. of Health that can make all the difference between a containment or another shut down,” she added.

However, Kiggans’ bill could make for a road block for schools.

Charlotte County Public Schools (CCPS) Superintendent Robbie Mason said Friday CCPS currently has a nurse at each of its five schools, four of whom are registered nurses. He said many school divisions utilize licensed practical nurses in school nurse roles, including Charlotte County, with great results.

“I think that while school nurses are incredibly valuable in our schools, mandating that these nurses be registered nurses is unnecessary and makes staffing nearly impossible,” Mason commented. “I would also hope that if this mandate passes, there is funding accompanying it, which is not always the case with such mandates.”

Melanie Scruggs, a registered nurse at Phenix Elementary School, said it’s important to note the school’s nurses have been educated and well-prepared for situations such as pandemics.

“Furthermore, as school nurses for CCPS it is comforting that our division has made every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of all students and staff,” she continued. “As school nurses we miss our students immensely. They are by far the biggest benefit of being a school nurse. We are currently working diligently to prepare our schools to welcome them back with many new precautions in place. Rest assured that their safety and decreasing their vulnerability to this virus will remain our top priority as we utilize all of our education and resources.”

“This legislation will be a significant human resource and financial burden on local schools,” Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks said Friday, Aug. 21. “There is a critical shortage (of school nurses) across the nation which will make it difficult to comply with this mandate, and not to mention the significant financial impact this mandate would place on local school divisions. We are currently operating under a tight budget and continue to face uncertainty over fiscal matters due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has on our revenue.”

Hicks said BCPS currently contracts with the Central Virginia Health Services for its nursing staff.

“During the 20-21 school year, we will have one registered nurse and three licensed practical nurses. Our registered nurse is housed at the middle school and each licensed practical nurse is housed at the primary school, elementary school and preschool/high school.”

Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) Superintendent Dr. Chip Jones said the school currently has two registered nurses on staff, one at the elementary school and one  shared at the middle/high school complex.

“I would hope there is flexibility in the bill that would allow for the continued sharing of the school nurse at the complex,” he said. “I do like having nurses at the schools. The nurses are able to provide the necessary medical services on a day to to day basis.”

Lunenburg County Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Charles Berkley said Friday that LCPS currently has three nurses now and would need another if the bill passes. He said he has concerns about finding another nurse and having the finances to pay them.