The Need for School Nurses

Wide range in number of school nurses in DC-area school districts

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When schools reopen, some local students will have more direct access to a registered school nurse than others.

A review of state and school records by the News4 I-Team shows a wide range in the number of school nurses employed by local school districts. 

Though all public schools provide health care for students, some school districts provide more registered nurses, rather than nurse technicians or nursing assistants. In Prince George’s County, the I-Team found one registered school nurse for approximately every 600 students. While in Montgomery County Public Schools, the ratio was larger, with one registered nurse for every 1,600 students.

“There has been an overall shortage (of nurses) for years,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, director of the Montgomery County Department of Health.

The county is actively trying to hire more school nurses, Gayles said.

“There are lots of more lucrative opportunities out there, which makes it tricky to compete,” he said.  

School records in Spotsylvania and Prince William counties show one registered nurse for approximately every 800 students. In Arlington and Stafford counties in Virginia and Frederick and Howard counties in Maryland, the I-Team found a ratio of one registered nurse for every 1,000 students. 

Nurse technicians and nursing assistants are trained for some health care needs of students, including administering prescribed medication, but work under the supervision of a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.   

In several school districts, the records reviewed by the I-Team show one registered nurse assigned to multiple school buildings. 

“We have nurses bouncing between different schools and balancing needs, checking on health needs at home,” said Montgomery County Council Education Committee Chairman Craig Rice.

Students who don’t have a full-time registered nurse assigned solely to their schools are at risk of receiving inequitable service, Rice said.

“Schools have to be a place where we can get healthcare triage for our children.”

The Montgomery County Council is scheduled to review an approximately $360,000 emergency fund to hire additional school nurses.

In January, school health professionals in Virginia advocated for better funding for school health programs in the state budget. 

The I-Team’s review of DC Public Schools and DC Public Charter School records show nearly 36 percent of the District’s public schools do not have a full-time, 40-hour-a-week registered nurse. The District supplements its health department’s school nurses with contract health care assistants in some schools.

“School nurses are not a luxury for schools. School nurses are essential,” said Donna Mazyck, the head of the National Association of School Nurses. “Oftentimes, the school nurse is the only health care provider that students see regularly.”

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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