Opinion: How to Expand School Health Care Support

Pixabay.com photo.

It’s the middle of a busy day when you get that call. “This is the school nurse, everything is fine, but …” You worry, but it helps when there’s a calm and competent voice letting you know your child is in good hands.

We can all agree on the importance of a school nurse. With the challenges that COVID-19 threw at us this year, our schools need those calm and competent voices now more than ever.

Schools – both public and nonpublic – had to adapt quickly to keep our schools and children safe. Those adaptations require staffing. Someone needs to screen everyone coming into the school building. Someone needs to monitor temperatures, symptoms, masking, quarantines and contact tracing. Someone needs to answer parent calls day and night. This is beyond one 24/7 job.

Sadly, nonpublic schools often struggle to afford adequate staff – many have a part-time nurse, but some have no staff at all. By contrast, public schools receive state and county support to provide all of these services. But COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate between schools that are public or nonpublic. Public school kids play right beside nonpublic school kids at the local playground.

We can no longer consider having an appropriate health professional in a school to be a luxury. It has become a public health necessity.

Some legislators in the Maryland General Assembly are taking this reality to heart. They’ve introduced legislation (SB827/HB1056) that would authorize local governments to reimburse nonpublic schools for up to 50% of the costs of providing health services. These services include whatever is necessary to prevent, investigate, limit and eradicate infectious diseases like COVID-19.

These important bills appear to be stalled in their respective committees right now. But if they become law, they would allow nonpublic schools to retain or hire a school nurse to ensure our children learn in a safe and healthy environment.

Schools and school nurses work hand in hand with local health departments to implement plans to contain/track communicable diseases. Viral spread in the limited community of a nonpublic school can lead to spread to the wider community. SB827/HB1056 will address the critical need to contain the spread of COVID-19 and enhance the delivery of health services to Maryland’s K-12 student population.

The bill sponsors and advocates continue to work hard to try to move the bill. In the coming days, we sincerely hope that the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs and House Appropriations Committee recognize the importance of this bill and pass it.

– KAREN PAIKEN BARALL, ARYEH GROSS, SAM MELAMED, YEHUDA NEUBERGER, JACOB STATMAN, JERRY WOLASKY AND EDWIN ZAGHI

The authors are writing on behalf of the Teach Coalition, a national organization representing nearly 90% of the nation’s Jewish day school students.