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Texas school nurses: How they are navigating the pandemic

Texas does not require districts to have a school nurse. It is up to each district to decide.

AUSTIN, Texas — If a student gets sick or has a medical need while at school, nurses are a safe and secure place for them to go for care. Yet, taking on a global pandemic has made their role more complex than ever.  

Nurses at Leander ISD are learning new ways to provide care while making sure their offices stay free of the coronavirus.  

“I’ve talked to my team and most of their worries aren't really about being on the front line per se. Their worries are being able to support the whole child," said Cristin Wicketts, R.N., district nurse for Leander ISD. 

As students return to on-campus learning, district leaders have looked toward the Texas Education Agency, in-part, for guidance. However, the agency did not specifically address what nurses should do. 

In Texas, schools are not required to staff nurses. That is a decision left up to each district.

Leander ISD chose to place a nurse at every school. Their Health Services Team has 52 staff members across 44 campuses.  

When the coronavirus hit, Wicketts spent months figuring out a plan and training for her team, which she said involved collaboration and guidance from the TEA, Williamson County, Austin Public Health, the CDC and other districts across the state.

Each campus now separates its nurses' offices into two separate rooms:

  • Triage Isolation Area: Attends to students who feel ill
  • Wellness Clinic: Attends to general medical needs like medications and first aid

Additionally, their offices are increasing handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing and limiting the number of students allowed in the office. Staff also wear gowns and gloves.

As prepared as nurses are, Karen Schwind, R.N., president-elect for the Texas School Nurses Organization (TSNO), believes schools that do not have nurses are putting students at a disadvantage. 

"Ideally our request would be to mandate that nurses are required in every school," Schwind said regarding what the state should require. 

Depending on its size, a district may place one or a few nurses to respond to multiple schools. 

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A spokesperson for Austin ISD told KVUE the district contracts out 78 full-time registered nurses and 43 full-time clinical assistants through Ascension Seton to ensure "each school day has health service coverage."

Each member of the health services staff has completed a six-hour contact training course through Johns Hopkins and COVID-19 specific training through Ascension Seton. 

While districts are staying as prepared as they can, one thing that has left some district leaders frustrated is the lack of personal protective equipment available.

"It is very challenging to be able to find the N-95 mask," said Schwing. "In order to care for students who have symptoms of the virus the N-95 is really the only protection that will allow us from not having to quarantine if we are exposed to someone who does end up testing positive for the virus." 

WATCH: How Texas school nurses are navigating COVID-19 pandemic

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