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Local parents call for more nurses in N.C. schools

For one local mom, sending her kindergarten daughter to Ballantyne Elementary everyday feels like a gamble since the school doesn’t have a full-time nurse.

She understands it’s not the school’s fault – they’re just doing the best they can with resources they’ve been given. But if 5-year-old Hannah Saurer had an epileptic flare-up or an allergic reaction while at school, her mom Teri says she’s not sure how the situation would be handled.

“I love her teacher. I love the nurse there – everyone’s been great, but you have more confidence when you know that a nurse is (at the school) every day. They are doing the best they can with the resources they are given,” Saurer said.

Saurer is a known advocate in Charlotte regarding the need for more nurses in schools both in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and North Carolina. Along with other area parents, the group is pushing to make getting more funding for school nurses a priority in the Charlotte community and beyond. With federal recommendations of one nurse per 750 students, CMS and the state falls behind at one nurse per 1,200 students, something Saurer is set on changing.

“We feel like if other states can put that as a priority, so should North Carolina,” Saurer said, adding that some states have a ratio as low as one nurse per 400 students. “Right now we just want to make people aware. I don’t think people know that the nurse isn’t there every day. I don’t think a lot of people realize that it can impact them, even if they have healthy kids.”
Saurer is advocating not only on behalf of her daughter Hannah, who has epilepsy and life-threatening food allergies, but also for her second-grade daughter Michelle who has no ongoing health issues.

“We’re trying to point out that it’s not just for kids who have chronic health issues, but it’s something all parents should be concerned about. Secretaries and teachers are not trained health care providers,” Saurer said. “They’re not qualified to administer medicine and they don’t want to be. It’s not their job.”

CMS enrollment increased by around 3,000 students this year to near 141,000 students, but the number of nurses stayed the same at 117, Nancy Langenfeld, CMS coordinated health specialist, said. School nurses are hired and funded through the Mecklenburg County Health Department. Langenfeld says she agrees with Saurer and other parents in that the district would love to see a full-time nurse in every school, but she understands the funds just won’t allow it.

“All the schools have a nurse – they just don’t have a full-time nurse. Our nurses are excellent and they do a great job, but it’s always better to have one person in the school,” Langenfeld said.

She added that although nurses aren’t at the school full-time, they have trained other school employees to step in during health situations or to administer certain medicines or health practices to students in need. It’s a system that’s in place across North Carolina, she said. And in cases of emergency where professional attention is needed, schools should call 911.

Funding for CMS nurses is delegated by the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners and Saurer said she’s already been trying to get the word out to elected officials.

“We want the commissioners to know this is a priority for their constituents. We’re also advocating to state legislatures,” she said. “We’re also working to get the support from the school board and superintendent.”

Saurer addressed the issue at one of CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison’s community town meetings recently at Ardrey Kell High School.

Morrison agreed with Saurer that safety of students is a top priority, but said more research is needed to decide if more school nurses is a top priority.

“I so appreciate the need for us to have more nurses,” he said. “There are a lot of priorities in our school district. It’s easy to develop the list of all things we want to add to or school district, but how do we start to prioritize the things we do? The money for school nurses comes from county commissioners – it’s something we want to take to them. I think it’s an important priority… we need feedback from you.”

Saurer agrees, saying parents need to say this a priority first in order to get the attention the issue needs.

“I’m not a politician; I’m a concerned parent. We need to come together as a group that this is a priority,” she said. “You can’t put a price on the life of a child.”

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