Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Reopening Schools in the Time of Pandemic: Look to the School Nurses

TitleReopening Schools in the Time of Pandemic: Look to the School Nurses
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsMcDonald CC
JournalThe Journal of School Nursing
Date Published06/2020
Type of ArticleEditorial
Full Text

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) shuttered schools across the globe in 2020. School closures were enacted to reduce COVID-19 transmission, though historical analysis will identify the impact not only on transmission, but also on child outcomes in all domains (Esposito & Principi, 2020). In the United States, the start of the school year follows a natural rhythmic norm—communities returning to school after a summer away. However, the closures due to COIVD-19 were not typical, and how and when schools reopen will create a set of new norms, with unique stressors for students, families, school personnel, and communities. One constant remains: School nurses are key to student health, safety and success, and at this time, their role could not be more important.

There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach in school reopenings for COVID-19. In many districts, implementing the recommendations will be challenging. School nurses will take on COVID-19 specific roles in advising, planning, and implementation. They are ready for this given their typical role in surveillance, classroom infection control prevention strategies, and supportive care of families. School nurses will continue to be health educators and monitors of regular immunizations. They will help faculty and staff navigate the needs of personal protective equipment. If and when a vaccine becomes available for COVID-19, they will also be the health advocate to help educate school communities.

The educational, social, emotional, and behavioral effects of COVID-19 will be long-lasting for children and schools. Accommodations may be needed for students with chronic conditions that may be particularly vulnerable. Addressing the mental health impact of COVID-19 is going to be a key area for school nurses in the academic year of reopening. If back in a physical classroom, the social interactions and educational attentiveness of students that were lost over months of physical and social distancing will need to be reintegrated, with school nurses supporting coping strategies to address the stress and trauma associated with COVID-19. School nurses know the toll trauma can take on communities and will be ready to plan what is best for their school.

The challenges of reopening are not easy, and there will be a need to maintain systematic quality control in the face of prescribed approaches changing rapidly. School nurses will tap into resources from local school nurse connections, their state associations, and nationally from the National Association of School Nurses (2020). They will be critical sources as we evaluate the effects of school openings in future research and to support plans for the next unexpected wave of change in public health.

School nurses are THE health experts in schools. Like their peer nurse innovators, they have the knowledge and experience to practically implement evidenced-based practices and scientifically supported recommendations in communities with diverse sets of resources and needs. There is hope that in fall 2020, schools will be well on their way to reopening. No matter the scenario, we know that school nurses will be ready to lead in the efforts to keep their schools healthy.

Even from the time this editorial is being written to reopenings, there may be swift changes in data reporting and approaches to prevention and mitigation measures. However, like school nurses do every day, they will continue to assess the data available, integrate it into prior knowledge about infection control, capitalize on emergency preparedness planning, advocate for equitable distribution of services, access evidenced-based resources, plan for interventions in the schools, and constantly evaluate outcomes to improve approaches. School nurses are at the forefront of school reopenings and will be a continued resource as schools navigate and adapt to the myriad of changes. School nurses will continue to lead to keep “children healthy, safe and ready to learn” (National Association of School Nurses, 2016).