Ratio of school nurses to students raises concerns

Written by Tiffany Flournoy

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

As Webster Parish schools open their doors this week, some parents fear the new school session may be ushering in more than a public education.

Higher exposure to airborne illnesses such as H1N1 or Swine Flu raises another concern ? the ratio of school nurses to students.

Reportedly, on a national average, roughly 14 states meet the federal standard of 1 nurse per 750 students. Louisiana is not one of those states making the cut.

Coming up short from a local perspective are Webster Parish schools with a total of three general school nurses, which are assigned to cover six schools each. In March, parish public school enrollment held steady at 7,132 students.

In addition, there are two special needs nurses assigned to work with specific students at specific schools based on Individualized Education Plan; therefore, their assignments change from time to time.

?Webster Parish does not meet the federal recommendations,? said Jackie Sharp, assistant superintendent of the Webster Parish School Board.

In an email to the Press-Herald, Sharp indicated the reason for the shortfall is that salaries for school nurses are paid from the general fund.

?There is no specific allocation for school nurses in the Minimum Foundation Program (funding from the state for local schools) and federal funds cannot be used to pay the salaries of general school nurses,? Sharp said. ?Our schools nurses do a tremendous job, despite the ratio (nurses to students). They manage to meet the needs at each school, and we are very pleased with their work. We depend upon their expertise for guidance in many instances. ?

According to the email, general nurses spend a full day at four schools and one half of a day at two of their assigned schools.

?Assignments (nurse schedules) are made on a geographical basis to reduce travel time on the day they spend a half of a day at two schools,? Sharp said. ?Also they are ?on call,? which means that they may be called to any school if there is a special need.?

Earlier this year, parish schools experienced a slight scare with Meningitis, after the contagious illness showed up at a Gibsland school before at least two cases were confirmed in Webster Parish. Fortunately, Webster schools were spared from an outbreak. However, with cases of Swine Flu making its presence known in northwest Louisiana, parents throughout the area are raising their level of concern even higher this school session.

Reportedly, nearby North DeSoto school system hit parents with letters Friday regarding a case of Swine Flu, which was confirmed from a student, which attends North DeSoto PK-2

As some children are introduced to and others return to a larger close-knit environment school aged children are at a higher risk of catching airborne sicknesses from their peers as a result of close interaction.

Sharp said last week she forwarded the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information regarding the H1N1 virus to all principals.

Like seasonal flu, H1N1 virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person, by way of an infected individual coughing or sneezing.
?As always, our schools are using Universal Precautions,? Sharp said. ?We depend on parents to keep students home if they have fever and /or other symptoms of the H1N1 virus.?

Reportedly, the virus has proven to have mild to moderate effects for most people who have experienced it; however, according to Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH) the virus continues to circulate within the state, nation and world. According to LDHH previous infections from seasonal influenza does not provide immunity against the novel H1N1 virus. Only those who have experienced illness from the novel H1N1 will have immunity to it, until a vaccine becomes available.

Wendy Garland, mother of four school age children said she constantly reminds her children of how important it is to wash their hands in an effort to fight off germs.

?I always make them wash their hands,? Garland said. ?It?s a continual habit for my household.?

The CDC also encourages individuals to wash their hands often.

According to LDHH, on June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level to Phase 6 in response to the ongoing global spread of the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus. Phase 6 (global pandemic) means that there are now ongoing community-level outbreaks in multiple parts of world.

The decision to raise the pandemic alert level to Phase 6 is a reflection of the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness caused by the virus.

What can you do to protect you and your family? Aggressively follow the steps below, and follow official public health advice regarding school, day care and camp closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.

Steps to protect you, your family (LDHH)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that the virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human. Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against swine flu, but there are steps Louisiana citizens can take to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses such as influenza.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.

Avoid close contact with sick people.

If you get sick with influenza, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.