Topeka Public Schools nurses preparing for return of students

Published: Sep. 8, 2020 at 9:11 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - While many area schools have been in session the past couple of weeks, the largest district in Shawnee County will begin offering online classes starting Wednesday.

Topeka Unified School District 501 is scheduled to welcome students back to their schools in the coming weeks on a hybrid basis, with classes being offered both in person and online.

When students do return for in-person learning, school nurses will be ready.

While they always play an important role, school nurses this year will be more important than ever as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will be having additional responsibilities,” says Lori Vawter, coordinator of nursing services for USD 501. “On a normal school year, we are evaluating and assessing students and staff for routine illness as indicated by KDHE and their guidelines.

“In addition to that, we will now be monitoring students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms and then following up with the appropriate care as indicated for that situation.”

With the new school year getting underway, face masks, social distancing, frequent hand-washing and temperature checks are required for students, faculty and staff entering the building.

“We have also created a special space for students or staff who may have COVID symptoms,” Vawter said, “and are waiting to go home for the day to be evaluated by their physician.”

Vawter added that principals have “created building-specific safety plans to put into place that are appropriate for their student population to help maintain and promote student and staff safety.”

Vawter added that USD 501 officials are in frequent contact with the Shawnee County Health Department to monitor COVID-19 cases in Topeka and determine the most appropriate plans for schools.

Already this semester, some schools in the Topeka area have closed their doors for a short period because of COVID-19 cases in their buildings.

However, once in-person classes start this semester in USD 501, closing buildings would be a “last resort,” based on discussions that have taken place with the Shawnee County Health Department.

Kate Denman, a registered nurse who serves schools throughout USD 501 as a “rover,” said she expects to see fewer students coming to the nurse’s office when students return to in-person classes, as a result of students being divided into “A” and “B” groups, meaning only around half of the student population will be at school on any given day.

Denman said nurses have been in training sessions throughout the summer months to be better prepared to address the health needs of students, faculty and staff members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While nurses are taking care of others, they also are doing their best to stay healthy themselves. Denman said nurses are using more personal protective equipment in their offices.

“I think the main thing is we have more PPE equipment this year, with facemasks and gowns,” Denman says. “That’s important and will be very helpful.

“I also think we have a good team anyway and we work together really well, and I think that’s just going to be more important this year than ever.”

One of the keys to combating the spread of COVID-19 is for students, faculty and staff to make sure they stay home if they’re not feeling well.

And while online classes are set to begin Wednesday in the Topeka Public Schools, there has been no target date announced just yet for students to return to their buildings for in-person classes.

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