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Registered nurses allowed to work in schools without further certification, bill proposes

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A proposed bill would expand the pool of nurses able to work in public schools with an aim to alleviate personnel shortages.

“A lot of schools throughout the state are having issues filling nurse positions,” said Rep. John Bradford, R-Meckelenburg, a primary sponsor of the bill, to the House K-12 committee on Tuesday.

The committee gave a favorable report to House Bill 382, which would allow registered nurses with at least two years of experience to work in schools. School nurses would no longer have to, within three years of being hired, earn a bachelor’s degree and a National Certification for School Nurses as they do now. Bradford said he created the bill after a request from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools agenda.

In the 2021-22 school year, there were 131 nursing positions vacant for longer than six months, compared to 15 positions vacant for the same time period in 2018, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). There were 1,620 full-time nurses employed in schools, or one nurse for every 833 students. At the end of the school year, 53% of those teachers were nationally certified.

Nurses would be paid under the nurse pay scale established by the State Board of Education.

Tiffany Gladney, director of policy at NC Child, spoke in favor of the bill on Tuesday.

Gladney raised youth suicide rates as one reason why the bill is needed. The same DHHS report documents 69 suicide attempts in elementary school last school year, 322 attempts in middle school, and 508 attempts in high school. Thirty-one high school students and two middle school students died from suicide, according to the report.

“Our babies are in crisis, and this bill will certainly save lives,” Gladney said. “And it’s time to meet children where they are, or where they should be, which is school.”

The current standards for school nurses were set by the State Board of Education in 1993. Most states require similar qualifications.

The bill now goes to the House rules committee.

Character education requirements

The committee also gave a favorable report to House Bill 253, which requires character education, including information discouraging bullying and harassment, to all grade levels. This character education, which includes traits like courage, self-discipline, and kindness, was previously encouraged instead of required.

The bill would also require local school districts to create a policy prohibiting bullying and harassment and train school employees and volunteers on the policy.

The bill requires training for educators on sex trafficking and child sexual abuse from nonprofits with at least 10 years of experience in providing research-based prevention curriculum.

The bill also requires additions to the health education curriculum: age-appropriate information on suicide prevention strategies and resources and sexual abuse prevention and reporting.

“In all of my years of teaching, and especially working with smaller children… many times there can be situations where they are suffering from abuse but they don’t really understand that it is abuse,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Alexander, a primary sponsor.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, was also a primary sponsor.

“As a mom to a sixth grade girl, I’m concerned every single day about the mental health of our children,” Clemmons said, before filing a motion for a favorable report. The bill also now heads to the House rules committee.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.