By Annie Osteen
School is starting and many of us are dreading the sound of that early morning alarm clock reminding us that schedules and responsibilities will ensue once again. The lunches are packed, first day of school clothes are usually laid out and we send our children off to the bus stop. But are we, as parents, really prepared for our children to be at school for seven long hours, five days a week? Do they have what they need if they were to get stung by a bee on the playground, get a headache from the constant blare of the florescent lights in the classroom, or all of a sudden realize that the milk they drank at lunch is giving them a stomachache? Will they have what they need waiting for them in the school nurse’s office?
The role of a school nurse has been around since 1902 when Lina Rogers Struthers began a trial run with the New York City schools. Her achievement in retaining healthy children in school prompted the assignment of more nurses working in schools, not only in New York City but across the country as well. However, the responsibility of a school nurse has transformed and certainly magnified in the last 115 years.
Each year, generally beginning in April, parents start their children’s registration process for the following school year. With that used to come a barrage of papers to fill out and turn in. Thankfully, Williamson County’s two school districts, Williamson County Schools (WCS) and Franklin Special School Districts (FSSD), have transferred the registration structure to a less-complicated, paperless online system. There are certain parts of the process, though, that still must go through the school nurse in both districts such as turning in immunization forms, physical forms and medications.
Non-prescription forms for the use of over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Benadryl and cough drops only require a parent’s signature, while all prescription medication forms such as those used for diabetes, asthma, and ADHD require the parents and physician’s signature. The school nurse cannot legally give prescription medication to a student without a physician’s approval.
In either case, all medication and forms need to be delivered to the nurse’s office by the parent or guardian. These forms can be found on the WCS website at wcs.org as well as the FSSD website at fssd.org.
The school nurse also has a unique role in provision of school health services for children with special health needs, including those with chronic illness and disabilities of various degrees of severity. For instance, this would require the school nurse to have insulin for diabetic students and EpiPens for students that are at risk for anaphylaxis should they come in contact with a certain food, insect sting or allergen. Amy Fisher, The Franklin Special School District Nursing Coordinator, pointed out that, “It is very important that parents provide emergency medications for use at school. An individualized healthcare plan must be completed and signed by both the parent and physician. Parents are encouraged to contact the school prior to the start of school if possible to discuss care for children with complex needs.”
While most of us think about a school nurse as the one supplying a Band-Aid or an ice pack, their role is so much more. Not only do they utilize their expertise when planning for school emergencies and disasters, they also provide an important bridge between education and health, connecting students and parents to health and social services in the community. School nurses also coordinate school-based screening for vision, hearing, and other conditions for students that may not have access to these types of medical interventions elsewhere. When parents lose jobs and health benefits, the school nurse and the efforts they establish with local community partners, may be the only source of healthcare for students.
A student’s health is directly related to his or her ability to learn, therefore the role of a school nurse is crucial to the vitality of the education system as a whole. After the child’s home, school embodies the second most influential environment in their life and while the teachers are and staff are essential in molding a student’s education, the school nurse presides over a student’s direct care. While they often get missed on the list for end-of-the-year gifts, it’s always important to remember the role that they play in our children’s life from the time they enter school to the time they graduate.