Pinellas working out plans to place a nurse in every public school by 2021

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LARGO — Amid rising rates of food allergies and chronic diseases among students, the Pinellas County school district may get enough funding to staff a nurse in every school by 2021.

Sara O'Toole, the district's managing officer for school health services, told School Board members at a workshop Tuesday that funding from the Pinellas County Commission would cover the cost of a licensed practical nurse at every school and a registered nurse overseeing every 10 LPNs.

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After more than a year of discussions, the commission this month accepted the school district's request to fund the schools with $1.5 million by raising the county health department tax rate from 6 cents for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value to 8 cents. If approved Sept. 26, property taxes for the average Pinellas single-family home would increase by $2.79 a year.

School nurses currently split their time among two or three schools, most days leaving front desk staff to deal with ill children and those with special medical needs. The school district has allotted more than $3 million toward school nurses, and the Pinellas Department of Health also chips in about $1 million annually.

"I've already started getting calls from nurses who are interested," O'Toole said in an interview.

It's unclear when the school district will actually receive the funding and begin hiring nurses. Lori Matway, the district's associate superintendent for student and community support services, said her department may ask the district for funding up-front to hire and begin training a few nurses. The school district, she said would later be reimbursed with funds raised from county property taxes.

Tricia Bates, a Pinellas County middle school language arts teacher, said she's sent emails and letters to county commissioners and School Board members to fund a nurse in every school since her 9-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type I diabetes two years ago.

After her daughter's diagnosis, Bates said she stayed at her daughter's school for two months to watch her since the school nurse was seldom there.

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"My goal was to make sure no other parent … would have to experience that because it was absolutely terrifying to think about sending her there without an actual medically trained person," she said.

This year, the school district expects to staff schools with 39 registered nurses, 35 LPNs and 12 certified nursing assistants. By the 2021-22 school year, according to a schedule given to School Board members, it plans to have 114 LPNs on staff and 12 registered nurses.

Bates said of the district's plans: "This is going to relieve a lot of the worry for the parents of children who have chronic illnesses."

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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