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Lawmakers urged to repeal new school nurse rules

State House Bureau

January 17. 2018 6:18PM
Manchester Public Health Director Tim Soucy testifies in support of a bill that would wipe out new certification requirements for school nurses. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — Lawmakers at the State House last year delayed enforcement of new certification requirements for school nurses, and could now eliminate them altogether.

Tougher rules for school nurses hired after July 1, 2016, were supposed to take effect with the start of the school year, but a legislative committee that presides over rules and regulations decided in October to give nurses affected by the new requirements another six years to comply.

At the time, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who opposes the new rules, predicted legislation would be introduced in 2017 to overturn them. That bill (HB 1217) was debated on Wednesday before the House Education Committee.

Opponents of the new rules say they are unnecessary and make it even more difficult for school districts to hire nurses in a highly competitive market for nursing talent.

Manchester Public Health Director Tim Soucy, whose department supervises more than 20 school nurses, was among those who made that point before the committee.

The N.H. School Nurses Association supports the new requirements and urged lawmakers to keep them in place.

All that’s currently required to be a school nurse is to have a nursing license from the state Board of Nursing, but HB 1193, passed in 2016 and signed into law by Gov. Maggie Hassan, changed that.

School nurses hired after July 1, 2016, will also have to be certified by the Board of Education, just like teachers. While an associate degree is sufficient for a state nursing license, it would no longer qualify for school nursing certification, which would require a bachelor’s degree.

Candidates will also need three years of experience in pediatric nursing or related areas, and will have to commit to continuing education. Like teachers, they will have to be recertified every three years by the Department of Education, at a cost of $130 to $150, in addition to what they pay for their nursing licenses.

’No case for urgency’

It all adds up to unnecessary regulation and cost, according to Rep. Greg Smith, R-Northwood, sponsor of the bill to wipe out the new certification law.

“No case for urgency has been made,” he said of the new rules. “There is no danger to the public or school children; no evidence of legal issues that have caused this change; no lawsuits; no federal mandates. Nothing shows that our constituents will benefit from the higher costs and shortage of quality candidates.”

Rep. Dan Itse, R-Fremont, said the change in the rules has created a new hiring problem for school districts across the state.

“There was a feeling prior to (the new rules) that we had under-qualified school nurses,” he said. “Now, because of the new qualifications, we have schools without school nurses. That is not an overall advance. What’s the advantage of requiring a highly qualified school nurse if that means you have no school nurse?”

Paula McKinnon, a school nurse for 23 years in Salem, urged lawmakers to keep the new rules in place, saying that Board of Education certification will “validate that school nurses are a vital part of the educational setting.”

Job is more complex

Also speaking in support of the new rules, and against the bill to overturn them, were a representative of the N.H. School Nurses Association and the former school nurse coordinator for the Department of Education under former commissioner Virginia Barry.

“It is unreasonable to withdraw a process that has been examined and implemented by a variety of stakeholders well-versed in the knowledge and skills our students deserve,” said former DOE nurse coordinator Nancy Wells, “particularly since there hasn’t been enough time to assess its value after implementation for only a few months.”

The demands on school nurses have changed over the years, and the complexity demands proper credentials, she said: “This is not your father’s school nursing.”

The bill to revoke the rules has a good chance of getting out of committee with an “ought to pass” recommendation to the full House.

Rep. Andy Renzullo, R-Hudson, told the Education Committee he was dispatched by House Republican leadership to signal their support for the repeal. “The Republican leadership team believes this bill is a substantial improvement over existing statute,” he said.

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