As many schools reopen across the country, data shows that immigrant school nurses are working on the front lines to help protect students and staff members during the Covid-19 pandemic, assessing potential coronavirus cases, developing immunization plans, and communicating with families about students’ healthcare needs. However, at a time when they are needed the most, the United States faces a significant shortage of school nurses across the country.
The latest data from the 2018 American Community Survey shows that, with 53.9 million students enrolled in the K-12 system, there were only 77,000 nurses working at elementary, middle, and high schools. This means that there was, on average, only one nurse for every 700 students. In some states, the situation is even more dire. In California, for example, there were more than 1,000 students for every school nurse.
Immigrants play a crucial role as school nurses, with 6.4 percent of nurses in K-12 schools across the country being foreign-born. In both California and New York, at least one in seven school nurses are foreign-born, filling in much-needed gaps.
Foreign-born school nurses also provide an essential service in caring for the millions of students in need of language assistance. In late 2017, it was estimated that more than 10 percent of all children in public school—more than 5 million schoolchildren—in the United States were English language learners. As of 2018, almost 10 percent of school nurses were bilingual, and over 40 percent of those nurses were foreign-born.
With tens of millions of K-12 students slowly going back to school, readiness to prevent coronavirus outbreaks is essential—and school nurses fill a vital role in this process. Foreign-born school nurses are not only ready to fill in the gaps, but their bilingual skills prove to be even more important now, as dissemination of accurate information becomes a key component of keeping the virus from spreading inside schools.
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