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School Nurses: First Line Of Defense For Keeping Schools, Kids COVID Safe

A school nurse at Mound School in Slavic Village assisted a student in the past in this ideastream file photo. But this year, school nurses will face new challenges during the pandemic. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]
a school nurse checks a student's heart using a stethoscope

Homeroom: A Return to Learning

This story is part of ideastream's special series examining the challenges and perils of returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

As some Northeast Ohio schools prepare to welcome kids back into buildings, staff members are also preparing to go back to work. But this year, they have a whole new set of procedures to keep them and the kids safe from the coronavirus.

School nurses across the state and country will be one of the first lines of defense, treating kids who might be exhibiting symptoms .

Becky Busch, who has been a school nurse for 13 years, said she has never had a school year like this one.

"It will be an interesting year to say the least," she said.

Busch is the head nurse for Avon Lake City Schools, a district that will have in-person classes.  

“We take our protocol from Lorain County Public Health,” she said. “We’re erring on the side of caution and sending children home," Busch said.

The Avon Lake school district is also encouraging parents to keep kids home if they have symptoms, or if they may have been exposed to COVID-19, she said. And there will be two health clinics at school: one for healthy kids and the other for kids who appear to be sick.

“In the past, we’ve had one nurse that would cover two buildings. That could be anywhere from 800 to 1400 students based on what buildings they were,” Busch said. “What we’re doing this year is a team nursing approach.”

That means each building will have a nurse on site, officials said.

Because they will be working with potentially sick kids, the nurses are taking far more precautions with the equipment they wear this year, Busch said.

“One of the things we’re doing, and this sounds so simple, we’re wearing scrubs this year, and we’ve never done that before,” she said. “They’re easy laundering and can be washed in high temperatures.”

More personal protective equipment, including gowns, gloves and face shields, will be available for all the district’s nurses. And, of course, all employees and students will wear masks. 

People are paying close attention to school districts that will have in-person classes, said Avon Lake City Schools Business Manager Tom Barone. There will be extra scrutiny on school nurses and custodians as they make sure there isn’t a coronavirus outbreak in their building, said Barone, who oversees much of the non-teaching staff.

Other school employees in the district, like food service workers, will also have a huge role in stopping coronavirus spread.

Lunch will look very different, partially because many of the cafeterias in the Avon Lake schools have been converted into classrooms to help with social distancing, Barone said.

Lunch break will be different this year in Avon Lake City Schools due to safety precautions for the coronavirus. 

“That’s going to be a lot different for the kids; they’re going to now eat it in their classrooms, so we’re going to be delivering, through our food service department, classroom by classroom, their lunches and milk, and they’re going to eat in there,” he said.

When the kids go out for recess after lunch, the custodial staff will come into the classrooms and clean up, so kids can go right back to learning in a freshly disinfected space.

As for custodians, their work won’t look all that different, because there have always been cleaning protocols in place, Barone said. But new equipment, such as an electrostatic sprayer, has been purchased to help with cleaning and disinfecting.

“It’s a disinfectant spray mist, not like a fogger, it adheres to pretty much everything,” Barone said. “You don’t have to wipe anything clean, so once we do get done cleaning and sanitizing a room, this is an extra layer of protection, safety, to some degree peace of mind.”

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158