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PA Lawmakers Consider Staffing of School Nurses, Counselors

House Bill 1401 would require Pennsylvania public schools to have one school nurse for every 750 students. (ronnarong/Adobe Stock)
House Bill 1401 would require Pennsylvania public schools to have one school nurse for every 750 students. (ronnarong/Adobe Stock)
May 13, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A bill introduced in the General Assembly would bring more nurses into Pennsylvania public schools. The legislation would cut the maximum ratio of students to school nurses in half, and establish minimum staffing requirements for other professionals who work with students.

Current law requires schools to have one nurse for every 1,500 students and sets no minimum for school psychologists, social workers and school counselors. Judy Morgitan, a school nurse and former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association's Department of Pupil Services, said the bills could help schools better serve the academic needs of their students.

"School nurses are key in getting them the services that they need so they can get in that classroom and become the students that they're able to become,” Morgitan said.

House Bill 1401 would require one school nurse for every 750 students, one school psychologist for every 500, and a school counselor and social worker for every 250 students. The bill is now in the House Education Committee.

Morgitan, who served on Gov. Tom Wolf's School Safety Task Force last year, pointed out student-services professionals are critical for helping kids cope with emotional stresses, including the "active shooter drills" now common in many schools.

"It's a heightened sense of insecurity and worry for the students,” Morgitan said. “So, I don't know how much education goes on right before, during and after that drill, but it really is an impact for them.”

Increasing the number of school counselors and mental health professionals was among the School Safety Task Force recommendations. Morgitan added the shortage of school nurses, psychologists and counselors puts extra burdens on teachers and contributes to teacher burnout.

"We hear time and time again, from all of our colleagues and all of our partners in the school health environment and the school community, that yes, we need more school nurses,” Morgitan said.

In addition to setting minimum ratios for pupil-services professionals, the legislation also calls for certification of school social workers.

Disclosure: Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA