Martita Fleming makes sure everything is running at the Washington Latin Public Charter School. As the director of operations, her job involves many responsibilities – she makes sure that the classes have books, that the lights are working, and that the copier is operational.
Fleming’s responsibilities increased when Washington Latin fully reopened for face-to-face education last month. She and a small team of coordinators and teachers oversee the conduct of coronavirus tests and medical evaluations on students, and supervise those students who are in isolation.
In essence, Fleming is managing the school’s response to Covid-19 with virtually no help from the institution’s nurse.
“It definitely takes a lot of effort and hours of work,” he said.
This is because school nurses hired by the city are not allowed to supervise or treat students with Covid-19 symptoms, according to the testimony of several school officials. This has put managers in the difficult position of having to decide who should take care of students with symptoms of Covid within the school premises.
Some schools have spent additional money to hire external nurses, sometimes having to stop covering other needs. Other schools, including Washington Latin in Brightwood Park, rely on their own staff, without formal medical training, to determine whether a student should be sent home.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) said nurses, who are hired through Children’s National Hospital, are serving the many other needs student health. That includes giving medications, monitoring their glucose levels, and making sure students are up-to-date on their immunizations.
Schools are also not allowed to use the nurses’ office, also known as “health suites,” to isolate students with possible Covid symptoms as a measure to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The health suites are going to be busy, not only with students arriving with some discomfort, but the nurses are proactively examining children who have not participated in face-to-face classes for more than a year and who may not have been examined by a health professional during that time, ”OSSE said in a statement.
If a student shows symptoms that could indicate they have Covid-19, the nurses tell the school staff that the child should be isolated. Once the student is isolated, it is left to the school to determine the next steps to take based on the criteria outlined by the city in its ordinances.
Part of the difficulties have to do with staff may not have the expertise to distinguish Covid-19 symptoms from other health ailments, school leaders say. They say nurses, many of whom have cultivated close relationships with students and their families, should play a greater role in coronavirus response efforts on campuses.
Fleming says she carefully scrutinizes health guides and regularly consults with the city’s medical experts. But he doesn’t feel fully capable of deciding when a student should stay or leave campus.
“I would like a professional doctor, someone who has gone to college for that, someone other than me, to be the one to evaluate this,” he said. I don’t want to use mom’s medicine. I really want to use the medicine. “
Before the pandemic, Washington Latin students were sent to the nurse’s office when they needed some kind of medical attention, according to Peter Anderson, the school’s principal. The nurse decided if the student should go home, answered questions from family members and made recommendations on the care to be followed.
He would like the school nurse to do the same for students with Covid-19 symptoms instead of relying on school personnel for this.
“We are talking about people who are not professionals [en esta área] and they are depending on their best judgment, “he added.
A spokesperson for Children’s National referred all questions to the DC Health Department, the institution that issued the guidelines for reopening schools. DC Health did not respond to requests for comment. Wala Blegay, an attorney for the District of Columbia Nurses Association, a union that represents school nurses, also did not respond to requests for comment.
About 180 District schools are assigned a nurse through a public-private partnership with Children’s National.
Public schools – both traditional and independent (“Charter”) – have 40 hours of nursing service a week under DC law, but jurisdictions in the region have struggled due to staff shortages.
It is difficult to know exactly when, and in what way, school officials learned that nurses were not going to care for students with Covid symptoms.
Some officials said city health authorities had shared the guides with schools over the summer. Others believed that the guides had been on their feet since last year when the students returned to the facility in small groups. A school official said he learned about the guidelines directly from the nurses and their supervisors at Children’s National.
The issue gained attention as campuses prepared for full reopening in the new school year, according to Anne Herr, director of policy and programs for the DC Charter School Alliance, which advocates by independent schools.
“We are not sure if everyone is receiving the same guidelines,” he said. “As everyone returns to face-to-face classes and students return to campuses, there has been some confusion.”
The Soujourner Truth Public Charter School was among a dozen schools that provided limited face-to-face education last fall. Throughout the period, school staff were monitoring students who were in isolation for possible Covid-19 symptoms, according to Justin Lessek, the high school’s founding CEO. Lessek said that he, the school principal, the office director and the special education coordinator have assumed those responsibilities.
He indicated that DC Health communicates weekly with school principals on safety issues and staff training to be contact trackers. But he would like to be able to consult with the school nurse if a student is showing possible symptoms of Covid-19 or to help determine possible close contacts of someone who tests positive.
“Some of us have worked very hard to read all the guides, to understand the symptoms in the best possible way,” he said. “But we are not, in most cases, nursing or medical professionals.”
The traditional public school system and other independent school operators have hired specialized workers to help with tests, exams, and isolation processes for students.
DC Public Schools, which educates more than half of the city’s public school students, has hired a patient care technician for each of its campuses to assist with daily health assessments and supervise children who need isolation, according to the OSSE.
The school system also hired an additional nurse for every five schools. Those nurses, who are not hired by Children’s National, will be deployed to schools to screen students in isolation and test them for coronavirus.
Some elected officials have criticized the agreement that keeps city-hired nurses away from students with potential Covid symptoms. The arrangement is “inefficient and a disaster in the making,” DC Councilor General Christina Henderson said on Twitter.
Jessica Sutter, who represents Hall 6 (Ward 6) on the DC State Board of Education, argued that the city is further complicating a reopening process that already involves many risks.
“We have medical professionals assigned to the school facilities so that they can take care of the health of the children,” he said. “But we are not involving them in the riskiest health situation facing our schools this year.”
DC Prep, an independent school operator with six primary and secondary education entities, relied on nurses from its schools to monitor coronavirus tests during summer classes, said Neils Ribeiro-Yemofio, head of the school for external affairs. Nurses also cared for students with potential Covid symptoms.
That process worked very well, he said. But after learning in August that city-hired nurses could no longer assume that responsibility, DC Prep quickly hired outside nurses.
The school had to redirect $ 700,000 that it was going to invest in the purchase of equipment for outdoor education towards the hiring of new nurses and the fitting out of offices for their use.
“It has been a gigantic, titanic task,” he assured.
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