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'This is incredibly dangerous' | SC school nurses say they are overworked, overwhelmed

School nurses spoke before the Rock Hill School Board, describing 10-hour workdays.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — School nurses spoke before the Rock Hill School Board on Thursday night, saying the conditions they are working under are unsafe for staff and students.

“I spend most of my day dressed up as a ghostbuster in personal protective equipment,” Rhonda Cranford, a school nurse at Northside Elementary with 34 years of experience, shared. “I’m answering the phone constantly with questions regarding isolation and quarantine. I spend hours documenting and sending emails. Ninety-five percent of my day is consumed by COVID activities.”  

The Rock Hill School District, like most districts in South Carolina, is mask-optional. The district’s COVID-19 dashboard is reporting that 1,559 students are in quarantine and 222 tested positive for COVID-19.

RELATED: SC Supreme Court strikes down Columbia school mask mandate

School nurses speaking before the board said they are often working 10-hour days, completing tasks such as conducting rapid testing, tracking cases and answering questions from parents.

“The environment that we’re currently working in with our students is unsafe,” Diane Graebner, a school nurse at Northside Elementary, said at the board meeting.

Graebner describes one school nurse receiving 265 missed calls in one day, taking away time from students with health conditions like seizures, diabetes and allergies.

“It’s not being done in a timely manner and, quite frankly, this is incredibly dangerous,” said Graebner.

While the Rock Hill School Board didn’t consider a mask mandate, it did issue a few changes.  There’s now an option to quarantine for ten days instead of 14 days. The Rock Hill School District is also temporarily canceling most field trips, suspending volunteer programs, and closing school buildings for community use.

In a statement to WCNC, the chair of the Rock Hill School Board said the board is, “committed to allocating additional resources through Kelly Services temporary staffing to address some of the workload concerns that were brought to our attention,” and also that the board “collectively expresses their gratitude and compassion for the nursing staff.”

Lindsay Machak, the Communications Director for the Rock Hill School District, also said that the district will work to address staff shortage concerns: 

“We are aware of the challenges our nurses are facing and we’re so appreciative of them for bearing with us. We are addressing the concerns as quickly as we can by providing them with additional support and resources.”

“However, we recognize we cannot do it alone, this truly has to be a team effort. We are depending on our parents and community partners to help us in this fight. Our nurses are one part of the solution, but we are also in need of substitute teachers and bus drivers. We are hoping anyone who is willing and qualified to fulfill one of our vacancies will reach out to our Human Resources Department to become part of the team.”

Following the meeting, schools showed support for school nurses online. Independence Elementary School shared photos of students dressed up as school nurses. Northwestern High School shared a message addressing nurses outside of its school reading, “We love you.”

Contact Indira Eskieva at ieskieva@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.