MAPLE, Wis. -- Many rural school districts in Wisconsin indicate they will offer some form of in-person learning this fall. As they implement safety precautions during the pandemic, a number of districts also lack the resources to have full-time nurses.
In the latest survey by the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, 62% of smaller districts that responded said they plan to reopen their doors with social distancing. Another 34% are planning a hybrid approach, but only 37% have a full-time nurse on staff.
Alliance director Kim Kaukl said that's a big concern. "Somebody's gonna have to pick up that slack that probably isn't as well trained as a school nurse," he said, "especially if there is a positive test." He said some rural districts have part-time health professionals who often have to cover multiple buildings. He cautioned that, because of the uncertainty surrounding schools and the pandemic, the return plans could change instantly.
Sara Croney, administrator of the Maple School District, which serves more than 1,300 students, said they're fortunate to be able to have nurses at schools, but that she's worked in other districts that weren't as lucky. In an era where more students have specific health-care needs such as diabetes management, she said, some basic health training for all staff members is vital. "Because wouldn't that be terrible if the one time you have an issue and you don't have someone there? That's why all the teachers are trained," she said.
Even when rural school districts are in a position to hire a nurse, the Alliance said, there aren't a lot of applicants to choose from. For those that don't have room in their budgets, the group believes the state should provide the necessary funding if they feel there's a need for a health-care professional. The shortage comes as administrators brace for school funding cuts as a result of the pandemic.