NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 15, 2011

Nurse staffing in Pentucket schools questioned

WEST NEWBURY — Just how many nurses are needed to keep students and staff safe and healthy in a regional school district? The Pentucket school board examines that question at a meeting tonight in the high school cafeteria. The discussion is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m., prior to a scheduled public hearing on the 2011-2012 Pentucket budget.

President Maria Gray of the Pentucket Association of Teachers told the committee last week that she first brought a concern about understaffing in the nursing department to the administration last November.

But in a memo to the school board dated Feb. 11, Superintendent Paul Livingston states that Gray's concern was not brought to him by any of the building principals or by the lead nurse, Kim Kelly, of Donaghue School, or the other nurses. The district, which has 3,129 students, employs a full-time nurse for each of its six schools.

However, in early 2010 the nurse at the district's regional middle school went on an extended medical leave. No long-term substitute has been hired to fill the spot, and the 15 registered nurses who are listed as potential substitutes are frequently not available, according to Gray.

Gray said there's no excuse for risking the well-being of students and staff by having fewer than one nurse for every school, every day. Livingston argued that the district is actually pretty close to meeting state guidelines, which are, after all, just recommendations, not requirements.

Instead, other Pentucket nurses — primarily high school nurse Lois Pencinger and Bagnall Elementary School nurse Jayne McNulty — are required to leave their buildings in order to provide services elsewhere in the district. Since October, there have been at least 15 times when one school building has been left without a full-time nurse on site. The union has filed a grievance, but the problem remains unresolved.

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