School Nurses Feel Like ‘The Enemy’

Partisan fights over Covid-19 have made life harder for overstretched school nurses and spawned waves of school board fights.

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“I feel like a terrible person for cheating these kids out of an education,” said Anne Lebouef, a school nurse in Louisiana who has had to enforce student quarantines.Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

‘They see us as the enemy’

The coronavirus hasn’t gone away. Neither have school staffing problems. And parent protests against pandemic restrictions have only grown stronger.

School nurses, already overworked, increasingly find themselves under fire from parents for enforcing public health rules that they did not make and cannot change.

“They just basically hate you,” said Anne Lebouef, a school nurse in Louisiana, who said that she cries several times a week. “They’re yelling at you. They’re accusing you of fear mongering.”

Before the pandemic, the majority of U.S. school nurses were already responsible for covering more than one school, according to a 2018 study. And one-quarter of schools have no paid nursing staff at all.

Through the pandemic, nurses still tried to keep students safe. They have acted as contact tracers and quarantine enforcers, while still handling the scrapes, allergic reactions and broken bones of a normal semester.

This year, nurses told my colleague Emily Anthes, is even worse. Fighting burnout, they say they are juggling more Covid cases, quarantines and furious parents.

For the first time, some hate their jobs. Others are quitting, exacerbating a school nursing shortage that predates the pandemic.

Sherry McIntyre, a nurse in western Oregon, faced stiff criticism from parents last month after she quarantined two dozen football players.

“They call us and tell us we’re ruining their children’s athletic career,” she told Emily. “They see us as the enemy.”

Pediatric vaccination could alleviate the strain on some school nurses, especially if it reduces the number of kids they must send home. (The C.D.C. says fully vaccinated students do not need to quarantine.)

But vaccine skepticism remains high, and uptake has been slow among children aged 12 to 15, who have been eligible for a shot since May. The C.D.C. reports that just 48 percent of them are fully vaccinated, and the vast majority of kids 11 and younger have yet to receive one dose.

“I loved being a school nurse before Covid,” McIntyre said. Last month, she resigned.

In other staffing news: As full-time classroom teachers quit or retire, substitute teachers are filling the gaps. Some districts have been forced to cancel classes; others have lowered hiring standards, just to keep an adult in a classroom. In one especially dire shortage, Denver is closing schools this Friday to give adults time for their “health and self-care.”

In other virus news:

Vaccines: California is scrutinizing doctors who are granting questionable medical exemptions from student vaccination requirements.

Masks: A state judge ruled that Pennsylvania‘s school mask mandate would have to expire Dec. 4, setting the stage for more legal action. Florida lawmakers are considering bills that would allow parents to sue schools that require masks. And a judge temporarily suspended a new Tennessee law that aims to bar schools from implementing mask requirements.

Mental health: In a recent survey, about half of middle and high school students in Los Angeles said they worried about their own mental health and that of their families and friends.

College: International student enrollment at U.S. universities has begun to recover after drops last year. Stanford announced it would keep tests optional for another year, citing pandemic stress. And U.C. Berkeley postponed a football game after an outbreak, despite high vaccination rates among the team.

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A parent at a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Va., which became the epicenter of conservative outrage.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

School board fights continue

This week, “The Daily” podcast is taking a deep dive into school board races.

On Tuesday, the team spoke with my colleague Campbell Robertson, who tracked an escalating argument in Central Bucks, Pa., an important county in national politics. In today’s episode, Campbell looks closer at what’s happening inside classrooms there.

“What I am hearing being discussed at the school board meetings isn’t ways to help us solve our school problems,” Betsy Coyne, a teacher who has been working in Central Bucks for almost 20 years, said.

These fights mirror those happening in Loudoun County, Va., another suburban district struggling with demographic change.

Parents, inflamed by the district’s efforts to address racism and promote diversity, crowded meetings to shout and protest. School board members took sides on pandemic restrictions, as masks in meetings became a symbol of partisanship.

Fights about transgender rights also escalated. This week, the school system settled with a teacher who had refused to address transgender students by their pronouns. And a sexual assault in a bathroom became fodder for a false story about transgender students.

Understand the Debate Over Critical Race Theory

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An expansive academic framework. Critical race theory, or C.R.T, argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions. The theory says that racism is a systemic problem, not only a matter of individual bigotry.

C.R.T. is not new. Derrick Bell, a pioneering legal scholar who died in 2011, spent decades exploring what it would mean to understand racism as a permanent feature of American life. He is often called the godfather of critical race theory, but the term was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in the 1980s.

The theory has gained new prominence. After the protests born from the police killing of George Floyd, critical race theory resurfaced as part of a backlash among conservatives — including former President Trump — who began to use the term as a political weapon.

The current debate. Critics of C.R.T. argue that it accuses all white Americans of being racist and is being used to divide the country. But critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with understanding the racial disparities that have persisted in institutions and systems.

A hot-button issue in schools. The debate has turned school boards into battlegrounds as some Republicans say the theory is invading classrooms. Education leaders, including the National School Boards Association, say that C.R.T. is not being taught in K-12 schools.

As we’ve reported before, these local fights have national consequences. As Republicans and Democrats dissect educational issues that can be used in the midterm elections next year, places like Loudoun and Central Bucks may well be their case studies.

Also of interest: The Los Angeles Times examined California‘s ethnic studies requirement, slated to go into effect by 2030. The look inside two elective ethnic studies classrooms “shows teachers’ intent on creating an environment without judgment, one where students are learning as much about their own cultural roots as those of others.”

In critical race theory news:

A Black high school principal in Texas left his district after he was accused of having “extreme views on race.”

Missouri‘s attorney general, a Republican running for Senate, sued Springfield, the state’s largest district, over requests for records related to anti-racist teaching.

From Opinion: “I don’t want my yellow-color-group daughter to be force-fed an identity at school by teachers, however well-intentioned,” Jay Caspian Kang writes in The Times. “But I also don’t want to encourage the anti-C.R.T. hysteria.”

In book censorship news:

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas announced a criminal probe into what he described as “pornography” in school libraries.

A district in Kansas removed 29 books from its shelves after parents reacted to stories about race, police brutality and sex.

In Spotsylvania County, Va., the school board rescinded a plan to remove “sexually explicit” books from libraries. Earlier this month, two board members advocated burning such books.

From Opinion: “Absent a societal commitment to free expression, the question of who can speak becomes purely a question of power,” Michelle Goldberg argues in The Times. “In much of this country, power belongs to the right.”

What else we’re reading

College

The plaintiffs in two cases that challenge affirmative action at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are asking the Supreme Court to hear their cases together.

Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, and Robert Zimmer, the chancellor of the University of Chicago, stepped down from the advisory board of the University of Austin, a new project by conservative thinkers who say that they are “alarmed by the illiberalism and censoriousness” at America’s most prestigious institutions.

After student and faculty pressure to remove references to eugenicists from its campus, Caltech is renaming buildings.

A good read: Some students in California‘s public universities have been forced to sleep in their cars because of an acute campus housing crisis. (Remember U.C. Santa Barbara’s plan to build a mostly windowless dorm designed by a 97-year-old billionaire?)

The social spending package

Religious groups are resisting President Biden’s ambitious prekindergarten and child care plans, arguing that a nondiscrimination provision could disqualify them from receiving funds.

In a recent iteration of the bill, almost one million low-income students at for-profit colleges would miss out on an increase in federal aid.

And the rest …

An ongoing trial could change Pennsylvania‘s school funding system, which critics say has long privileged wealthier districts.

A district in Utah will open an independent investigation into bullying after a 10-year-old girl committed suicide.

Six high school students in Aurora, Colo., were shot near their school on Monday afternoon. The police said their injuries were not life-threatening.

California football: A deaf high school team is steamrollering its opponents thanks to innovative communication tactics. And games between high schools that funnel players to top college teams increasingly look like Division I face-offs.

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A page from “The Night Walk,” one of 10 winners of The New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award.Credit…Marie Dorleans

Tip: Good books to read aloud

Since 1952, The Times been awarding annual prizes to illustrated children’s books. Since 2017, we’ve been partnering with the New York Public Library to administer the honor.

Here are this year’s 10 winners, with illustrations from each. There are books about the subway, the Tulsa race massacre and even a robot in a fairy tale. They’re beautiful, and we hope you enjoy them.

But as the holidays tick ever closer, here are a few other suggestions.

Younger readers may enjoy these stories about snow, mummies or even philosophy. Middle schoolers can escape on horseback or by riding a bike.

The artistically inclined can marvel at paintings and museums, or learn about famous visual creators or musicians. And a young traveler may enjoy Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s book, a Japanese classic now translated into English, or an illustrated memoir about growing up behind the Iron Curtain.

Or, just check out this delightful illustrated story in The Times about Beatrix Potter, a beloved author who created Peter Rabbit. See you next week!

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