Proration Makes It Hard to Add Nurses at Schools

Proration Makes It Hard to Add Nurses at Schools

Montgomery Advertiser

September 21, 2009

School nurses are expected to have their hands full in the coming months with the onset of the regular flu season and the threat of a widespread outbreak of the H1N1 virus.

That’s on top of caring for the everyday bumps and fevers and other critical needs of students.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there already are too few nurses serving schools across the state.

The CDC recommends one nurse per every 750 students. In Alabama, the ratio is currently one registered school nurse to about every 1,100 students, said Sherry Marbury, state school nurse consultant for the Alabama Department of Education.

“In Alabama, you have nurses who are working three to five schools apiece, so you’re really just putting out fires,” said Lee Roberson, president of the Alabama Association of School Nurses. “When you’re putting out fires all day, you sometimes don’t have as much time to spend on the educational part of the job like teaching students the importance of washing their hands.”

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In June, the state Legislature passed the school nurse act, which sets the goal of having one state-funded school nurse for every 500 pupils as funding becomes available in the state’s Education Trust Fund and is appropriated by the Legislature.

The act amended a 1998 school nurse law, which had the goal of one school nurse for every 2,000 students in Alabama schools by the 2010-2011 school year.

The new act also allows Alabama schools to employ licensed practical nurses under the supervision of registered nurses, state school officials said.

While the new law goes further than the one in 1998, the ratio recommended in the 2009 school nurse act is not required in school systems, so some districts fall short of meeting that ratio, Roberson said.

“The good thing about the (current) law is that it does allow superintendents to hire a school nurse supervisor to recommend the staffing needs for their districts,” she said. “In some ways we’re a little ahead because some school systems have a nurse in every school, but with proration there are schools in the state that have had to cut back on school nurses.”

Montgomery’s school system employs 54 school nurses to serve its nearly 32,000 students, a ratio of one nurse to about every 590 students. Eleven of those nurses float on a rotation basis to cover schools without full-time nurses, said Dorothy Rogers, school health services and nurse coordinator for Montgomery Public Schools.

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