By Yehuda Neuberger, Jerry Wolasky, Karen Paiken Barall, Aryeh Gross, Yanky Statman, Sam Melamed and Edwin Zaghi
It’s the middle of a busy day when you get that call. “This is the school nurse, everything is fine, but …” You worry, but it helps when there’s a calm and competent voice letting you know your child is in good hands. We can all agree on the importance of a school nurse. With the challenges that COVID-19 threw at us this year, our schools need those calm and competent voices now more than ever.
Schools — both public and nonpublic — had to adapt quickly to keep our children safe. Those adaptations require staffing. Someone needs to screen everyone coming into the school building. Someone needs to monitor temperatures, symptoms, masking, quarantines and contact tracing. Someone needs to answer parent calls day and night. This is beyond one 24/7 job.
Sadly, nonpublic schools, such as Jewish day schools, Catholic schools and independent schools often struggle to afford adequate staff — many have a part-time nurse, but some have no staff at all. By contrast, public schools receive state and county support to provide all of these services. But COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate between schools that are public or nonpublic. Public school kids play right beside nonpublic school kids at the local playground.
We can no longer consider having an appropriate health professional in a school to be a luxury. It has become a public health necessity.
Some legislators in the Maryland General Assembly are taking this reality to heart. State Sens. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-District 18) and Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11) and Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) have introduced legislation (SB 827 / HB 1056) that would authorize local governments to reimburse nonpublic schools for up to 50% of the costs of providing health services. These services include whatever is necessary to prevent, investigate, limit and eradicate infectious diseases like COVID-19. This important legislation would allow nonpublic schools to retain or hire a school nurse to ensure our children learn in a safe and healthy environment.
The bill is currently under consideration in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly; it is not a sure thing yet. The Orthodox Union’s Teach Coalition, which advocates for equitable government funding for nonpublic schools, is hard at work to see this bill pass and become law, together with Jewish and nonpublic school advocacy groups.
Our legislators need to know that you really care about keeping our schools safe and our children healthy. They need to hear from every member of our community. We urge you to send an email of support to the legislators considering the bill.
The writers are Maryland Jewish day school activists.