'Should these kids all be going home?': School nurses face hard decisions this year

NOW: ’Should these kids all be going home?’: School nurses face hard decisions this year

CULVER/ELKHART, Ind. -  This week on The Learning Curve our team is taking you inside the school nurses station to give you a unique look at how kids are being treated when medical issues come up while they are at school.

We head to two different school districts, Baugo and Culver, to see how their nurses are helping your children.

When thinking about learning amidst a pandemic one of the most important and risky jobs anyone can have is being the school nurse.

Our cameras were rolling as a student went through the isolation process, it’s a unique and compelling moment we think is worth sharing, however, we do want to mention that we are hiding the student's identity to protect their privacy and just because the student is in isolation, doesn’t mean they have COVID.

“What if we do have a student that tests positive? What if we do have a student that comes in with that with a headache? Should these kids all be going home," Wendy Shepherd, a school nurse at Culver Community Schools said. 

“Is this really just a stomachache? Is this really just a headache? Or do you have something more going on," Kelly Howard, a school nurse at Baugo Community Schools said.

“We all had a lot of questions," Shepherd said.

So we took a look at Culver Community Schools to get an inside look at the nurses there and how their jobs have changed because of this pandemic.

“So typically, I have students that come in that need daily medicine, so they'll come in in the morning, I get them those," Shepherd said.

If a student comes in with a sore throat last year, Shepherd might have given them some medication or maybe a cough drop, and then send them back to class. But all that has changed this year.

“I mean, you just we can't be too careful now," she said. "Prior to the pandemic, what we would assume like if we see any sort of illness or anything, assuming that it may have been a common cold or allergies, we just have to look at those things differently now, because the covid symptoms are so, so broad, and there's such a wide range of those symptoms. So now, I'm asking a lot of questions that I probably wouldn't have before."

Shepherd showed the full PPE gear used in case a student does present any symptoms.

"We have, I have the gowns, the shields and the gloves," she said.

Right after speaking with Wendy, a student walked in with coronavirus symptoms and we got to see those safety procedures put to use.

"What's going on," she said.

"My throat hurts. And I have a terrible cough," the student said.

"You do? Okay. All right. Well, i'm going to, you know the drill," she said then checking her temperature. "Does anybody at home been sick"

"No," the student said.

"Okay. Yeah, let me see. Open big open wide. Okay," Shepherd said. "All right, so we're gonna call home. Sorry, kiddo. All right so what we're gonna do, we're gonna take you to the isolation room until mom gets here. So we have a room, it's not scary at all. You're just gonna stay in there until mom gets here to come to get you that way.”

Only a couple of students have been put in the isolation room so far.

“We've just had, I believe, three at this point," she said. "I put my PPE gear on. I do take that student to the isolation room, and then I call home.”

We hear her calling, "Hey, ***** this is wendy at the health office at this school. Um, hi. So I have *******, here not feeling well. And she said that she has a very sore throat and a bad cough. And I will need yeah. So is there someone that can maybe come and get her today?”

“I let the parent know to please come to our front office, there is a window there wear a mask. And then at that point, you know it's up to them. I would explain the protocols after that," Shepherd said. "If they have a fever, any symptoms, check with your doctor, go to the doctor get checked out. It's different if they've been in close contact with someone that's had covid. That's a whole different ballgame to where then we want them to be at home quarantined for the 14 days."

When it comes to students being quarantined, the school's policy is to be better safe than sorry. 

“I don't have the numbers right now. Exactly. It has been over I would say 20 at this point, just to be safe kind of thing," she said.

So right now the nurse has full PPE on she's going to the isolation room where one student presented coughs and dumps. Now she just wants to be safe than sorry. We don't know if it's COVID-19 but that's why she put the student into the isolation room and is now bringing her stuff.”

"Okay, kiddo, you're ready. I'm not trying. I don't want to scare you at all. It's still me under here. Go off that room. Slow down. It's gonna be the door on the right," she said.

But that doesn't mean that nurses like Shepherd don't get nervous even with all the procedures. 

“Yeah. It's very scary. I mean, because you don't know you're always, you know, thinking or trying to think at least two steps ahead," she said. "You know, what can I do to not only keep myself safe but the student and other students safe?"

For these nurses, every day is relatively the same except for the major challenge of not knowing whether a student with a cough or sore throat actually has the coronavirus.

Now, these challenges aren't unique to Culver Schools, but every district. So we headed to Baugo Community Schools to get more answers to our burning questions.

"We don't see the same symptoms, as you see, in adults. Sometimes they are, but they're usually much milder. You see a lot of, you know, just general symptoms," Howard said.

Howard has been a nurse for almost 13 years working in pediatrics at Memorial. She has only been a nurse in the Baugo school district for the last 6 months.

“I'm trying to do use my best judgment when I see them. Do I think that this could be corona? I mean, if I believe that, it's that it has a possibility of being covid, I'm going to have to send them home and have them checked out by their doctor," she said. "I have no way of knowing without a test.

So when a kid walks in with a cough or a sore throat, the first thing Howard does is look at their history.

“We're kind of trying to get the whole picture when they come in here," she said. "I'm gonna check them for fever. I'm gonna see if they've been you know, do they have history of having allergies? Do they have a history of you know, having this cough this time of year?” 

But symptoms aren't an automatic ticket to the isolation room.

"If it's a high chance that it's going to be COVID, and they're going to go into an isolation room," she said.

Howard said there have been COVID cases in the district, however, we still don't know if those are student cases.

"I don't know if I'm at liberty to share but we've had persons in our school system that have had it," she said.

But there have been students put in the isolation room.

"Well, sure, I mean, we take kids over there. And again, that might be just because my bed here is full, and they need to lay down. It might be because they are showing symptoms, and they need to go home. I don't know if I have a number necessarily. Not as many as I expected," she said.

Going into the school year school officials have to plan for the worst but is it a given to see at least one COVID case this school year? Howard said of course.

"I mean, I think that was expected we, especially with the community spread that we have right now we expect that it's going to start showing up in our school systems," she said. "Outside, we can't control it. Kids do, they're going to still play with their friends, they're going to still have parties or, you know, family gatherings, that type of thing. So they're hanging out with friends, or they're probably going to share it and bring it into schools.”

However, haring a student has the virus, is something no one wants to hear.

"You know, there's a lot of stigmas that surround it. And I think parents don't want to hear that word. And, you know, it's, it's, it's a scary thing," she said.

“In the beginning, I wasn't sure what to expect. But then I'm like, I feel like I'm a mom of hundreds of kids. So you just do what you would do to protect your own kids. And that's what I do, whether it's sanitizing, making sure I have plenty of masks. And reminding the kids washing their hands, just things like that," Shepherd said.

“Pandemics don’t just go away. It’s not going to just be an overnight thing so unfortunately there's a new norm and this is it," Howard said.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your school district, reach out to us! Email us at [email protected]. We will make sure to get back to you as soon as we can.

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