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Update: Senate Committee Restores Nurse, Librarian Requirement For School Districts; Advances Bill

Jo Naylor
The bill also says schools would no longer have to collect proof of vision, dental, and blood lead testing.

Updated: 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28

Senators scaled back a plan Wednesday afternoon to eliminate several state requirements for school districts. The Senate Education Committee removed a section of the bill that would strike the requirement for each school district to have a nurse and a teacher librarian. 

The rest of the bill, which deals with topics including student health screenings, environmentally-preferable cleaning products, and others, advanced out of committee with Republicans voting in favor.  

Original Post: 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27

School districts would no longer be required to have a school nurse and a teacher librarian under a proposal advanced in the Iowa Senate Tuesday.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Education Committee, said the bill would give school boards and communities more power to make decisions that are best for local students.

“Do we trust those people and their teachers to make the decisions that are appropriate to their students, or not? It’s as simple as that,” Sinclair said.

She said school districts would not be prohibited from hiring nurses and librarians.

But stakeholders at a crowded statehouse meeting expressed concerns that removing state requirements for nurses, teacher librarians, and collection of health screening data will result in students losing access to critical services.

Iowa School Nurse Organization Executive Director Sharon Guthrie noted the state passed a law in 2007 requiring each district to hire a nurse.

“In 2007, 26 percent of our school districts didn’t have a nurse, so therefore you leave all these children without having access to the resource of a health care provider,” Guthrie said.

She added school nurses care for students with chronic conditions and are on the front lines of detecting possible mental health issues.

Joan Taylor is an associate professor of school library studies at the University of Northern Iowa.

“Just as first grade teachers, high school science and math teachers would never be seen as optional in a school district, neither should the teacher who has contact with every student and every teacher and support staff person in the building to provide them the resources they need,” Taylor said.

Collection of health screening data

The bill also says schools would no longer have to collect proof of vision, dental, and blood lead testing. Instead, it would be up to the providers conducting those screenings to submit the information to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Sinclair said schools would no longer have to be “paper pushers” for health screenings.

Several groups are concerned about how the new system would work, and worry that more children with health issues could fall through the cracks.

Amy McCoy with the Iowa Department of Public Health said there might be some accountability issues with ensuring parents take their children to get health screenings, and that the information makes it to the department.

“One of the things we’ve done is work so well with the schools to get that information back. And they really are that local resource,” McCoy said. “It means a lot more to have that local school nurse or someone call you and follow up on your child’s screening versus having someone at the IDPH make that follow-up call.”

She added a work group report on improving health screenings was released in December, and those recommendations should have an opportunity to be implemented.

Emily Piper with the Iowa Association of School Boards said most of the ideas in the bill came directly from school boards seeking more local control.

“It’s not our intention to get rid of the screening requirements or to put children at risk,” Piper said. “It’s our intention to try to better focus our attention and energies.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter