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New York City parents are raising alarms about the school nursing shortage as students prepare to return to classrooms in the fall — and the Department of Education still has no plan on how to fill the 400-nurse gap.
Nurses, parents and educators have complained for years that inadequate pay and increased medical needs of students are driving nurses away from DOE jobs. Last year, the shortage reached “crisis level” when dozens of school buildings were without a nurse on a typical day.
Now the issue is more urgent as parents and educators grapple with decisions on how to keep 1.1 million city students safe during a pandemic.
Parents at one Upper East Side school say the rotating nurses they had last year just won’t cut it now, and they’re demanding Chancellor Richard Carranza assign a designated, full-time staffer.
“The unique demands and challenges of re-opening during the global COVID-19 health crisis necessitate a different approach: we need a permanent nurse,” PS 290 parents insisted in a petition to Carranza that has drawn more than 500 signatures.
On some days last year, “a temporary nurse was unavailable, which meant no nurse was present that day. The school was then forced to take extra steps in order to ensure the safety of the children with any health conditions,” the petition says.
The 82nd Street school is attended by about 500 K thru fifth-graders.
Mayor de Blasio announced a school reopening model Friday that was widely seen as light on details. He failed to mandate testing for teachers — and ignored the nursing issue altogether.
Councilman Ben KallosStefan Jeremiah
“We’re really dealing with … imperfect solutions,’’ he told reporters in a conference call.
The DOE said Friday it was considering hiring more nurses and medical staff for the coming school year.
“The health of our students and staff is our first priority for this upcoming school year, and nurses will play a critical role in supporting our schools. We understand where these parents are coming from, and are exploring several avenues to providing the necessary nursing and medical staff schools need to keep their communities healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said in a statement.
In March, as the virus began to spread, Carranza announced plans to hire an additional 85 nurses — a solution that barely scratched the surface of the staffing shortage, community leaders said.
“Mayor de Blasio made a promise to have a nurse in each school, but he brought in 85 nurses to assist in filling more than 400 vacancies. It made no progress toward the level of health care that our schools need,” wrote Kim Watkins, Harlem parent and president of Community Education Council District 3, in a recent op-ed in the Gotham Gazette.
Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the district PS 290 is in and sits on the education committee, said he plans to write to de Blasio and Carranza calling for full-time nurses.
“I am as terrified as these parents are that the mayor would even think to send kids back without a nurse to diagnose kids who might have the multi-inflammatory disease,” said Kallos. “What they are going to do is ask people with no medical background to diagnose kids.”