Plans to reopen schools, despite a pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down soon, hinge on keeping students and school staff healthy to continue learning and teaching.
Changes have been made to many facets of the typical school day to make every effort to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.
This year, school nurses will be on the frontline in the battle against the virus. They’ll be the ones serving as healthcare specialists on every school campus.
“We always follow infection control guidelines and will make every effort to identify students or staff that may be exhibiting some sort of illness as we have always done and remove them from the mainstream population and send them home until well to return to school,” said Lisa Morrison, lead nurse for Glynn County Schools.
In many ways, the role of nurses will remain the same, she said. But that role will be especially crucial this year as student health will be a determining factor in whether schools can remain open.
“At the start to school every year, we audit immunization records and will do our best to ensure that all students are healthy and ready to learn,” Morrison said. “Please make certain your child is up to date on required immunizations. We will be doing more teaching about infection control, more talking with students or staff who may have questions or concerns and connecting parents with healthcare providers in the community.”
The school system’s team of nurses met Wednesday to discuss districtwide plans for the new school year, which will begin Aug. 20.
Valerie Whitehead, executive director of strategy and innovation for Glynn County Schools, explained the importance of maintaining consistent messaging based on information and guidance provided by the public health department.
“I am the district contact for the department of public health, so I am not exaggerating when I say that I am texting, calling, emailing, talking to (Coastal Health District director) Dr. Lawton Davis at least once a day,” Whitehead told the group of nurses during the meeting in the Brunswick High School auditorium. “Most days in the last three weeks we probably talked, texted or called multiple times a day.”
School nurses participated in numerous educational opportunities over the summer and have followed CDC briefings, Morrison said. Some nurses have also served on COVID-19 task forces for the county and the state.
“We follow DPH, Georgia Association of School Nurses, the National Association of School Nurses and the American Pediatric Association, ensuring we follow best practices from these organizations,” she said.
Nurses will be the ones with boots on the ground when students return to school, encouraging everyone to social distance, wear face masks, wash hands and use hand sanitizer.
Parents and guardians can support this work, Morrison said, by pre-screening their children every morning before they get on the bus or leave for school to make sure they are healthy.
“If unsure, parents may call their school and leave a message for the school nurse, and they will return the call as soon as possible,” she said. “Please update parent and emergency contact numbers. If we need to call a parent or guardian, we can do this efficiently if we have correct contact information.”
She also recommends parents make a back-up plan to pick up sick students from school when they are unable to themselves.
“And to the employers of parents, please understand if we call a parent while they are at work, it is usually a necessity for us to talk with a parent whose child may need medical care or to go home until better,” Morrison said.
Students with chronic conditions should have a health plan from a physician for specialized care at school ready for the nurse before the first day back. Nurses will be available to schedule a time to talk with parents, who can call the school to make an appointment before the start of school.
Those wishing to donate needed supplies to schools are encouraged to give tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.
Morrison said she fully expects the school system’s team of nurses to rise to the challenges of this new school year.
“Our nurses will remain diligent and work hard to ensure the health and safety of all students and staff,” she said. “We have veteran school nurses from diverse backgrounds of healthcare that are respected for their critical thinking and vast knowledge. School nurses really love their students, and we have missed them.”