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School nurses, librarians take on new roles during remote learning

Posted at 8:12 PM, Aug 05, 2020

Many public school districts across the country are choosing to do remote, online learning once school starts back up in the fall. But where does this leave some of the crucial support staff like school nurses and librarians?

While some districts are furloughing or laying off staff, others are getting creative.

"There’s a variety of tasks we can do even though we’re not physically on campus and on site," says Jane Banks, the director of health services at Fresno Unified School District in California.

Banks is deploying the district's 67 full-time school nurses and nearly 50 licensed vocational nurses to act as contact tracers during the pandemic.

"A lot of the work can be done virtually and we actually do it over the phone. Most of the time, I spend a lot of time on the phone with families and staff and so I can see it being the same in the fall," says Banks.

Fresno Unified says its librarians will also be working remotely this fall, supporting schools' digital libraries, checking out textbooks for at-home use, distributing computers and WIFI hotspots to families, creating high quality digital resources for students and teachers and so much more.

For support staff like librarians and nurses, it's a job they're not used to doing remotely but they're finding there is still so much to do to support students while they're not on campuses.

"We're trying to do our best in ensuring that we're trying to keep as much staff as we can. Now is the time where we need our school nurses, where we need our health staff," says Banks.

Laurie Combe, the president of the National Association of School Nurses, says districts are in a tough spot this fall. Educators are dealing with rising costs to keep students and staff safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, all during state budget cuts. Some districts are being put in a tight financial situation.

"I have heard for some layoffs and I've heard of some furloughs. So, there's a big difference there," says Combe.

Combe adds that school nurses have been crucial in assisting districts through the pandemic since the spring and they'll continue to do so in the fall.

"They've been essential to the planning and preparation and emergency preparedness of school districts," says Combe.

Combe hopes districts will be innovative in the ways they can use school nurses. Fresno Unified is hoping to maximize nursing services this fall.

"There's a lot of things they can do off-site. Things like connecting with parents and families, especially we have nurses who are connecting with students who may fall into those high risk categories and ensuring they are safe during this time," says Banks.

Fresno Unified will also be testing out something brand new this fall: Telehealth with school nurses.

"Right now, it's the limitations with access and just kind of bridging that gap. Especially with our families that might not be able to drive somewhere and get services that they need," says Banks.

The district is just in the planning phase right now but they hope that even with school campuses physically shut down this fall, that school nurses will still be able to connect and treat families remotely.