Nurses have been a part of the school setting since the late 1800s when they provided student inspections to identify those with communicable diseases needing treatment. With widespread use of antibiotics and vaccines to prevent common childhood diseases the role of the school nurse has evolved to a new level. Child and nurse
Students with chronic diseases, mental health issues, and high-risk behaviors have driven school nurses to gain expertise not only in public health but also in pediatric and mental health nursing. Additionally, the need for nursing services in the school setting increased with the passage of Public Health Law 94-142 in 1975, requiring the mainstreaming of physically and mentally challenged students into the general student population.
A later version of P.L. 94-142, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), did not specifically fund school nurses, but a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1999 confirmed that nursing services were to be provided by the school district for students needing nursing care. Under IDEA regulations, school nurses provide nursing assessments for students in special education programs as well as deliver nursing services for students in need of procedures such as gastrostomy tube feedings, clean intermittent catheterizations, tracheostomy care, and others.
The primary role of the school nurse is to support student learning. The nurse accomplishes this by implementing school kids strategies that promote student and staff health and safety. The nurse takes a leadership role in serving as the coordinator of all school health programs and serving as the health professional for the school community. The school nurse provides illness and injury assessments and interventions; health assessments and participation in development for students with special needs; pediatric nursing procedures, screenings for health factors impacting student learning, administering medications, and advancing adolescent education on topics surrounding personal and community health.