This week, we were presented with another one of those difficult conundrums our system of laws creates from time to time.
We almost had a state bill eliminating the mandate for both school nurses and school librarians. Thankfully, the bill was amended to remove the sections about nurses and librarians before being passed by its committee, according to Iowa Public Radio. Flip-side of the coin — the bill didn't say schools couldn't hire nurses and librarians. In fact, in both cases, the language was changed from "a school district shall" to "a school district may" hire the positions. And, as one would expect, no one was really up in arms about the section of the bill encouraging districts to develop environmentally sound cleaning policies. No, the hubbub was pretty much limited to "may" versus "shall."
Of course, we love individual freedom. We want individual schools to be able to make autonomous choices without the state or the feds peddling a one-size-fits-all solution. We want local control. Yet, we know autonomy doesn't always equal success. If you want to have any semblance of an organized media center for research and learning, you've got to require a librarian of some sort. If you want to treat injuries or address allergic reactions in the student body, you've got to require a nurse of some kind. Now, I know what you're thinking — the teachers can do all that.
Let me tell you though, teachers are already stretched thin. Trust me. I watched ever-shifting educational curriculum stretch my dad this way and that for years upon years. I think the state already realizes how much school staff does. The same bill that would have eliminated school nurses and librarians also requires parents to provide the schools with immunization and health records, rather than having school staff take the time to track them down.
The staffing requirements already in the books were written to meet a need, and that need hasn't changed. I'm all for making it easier for schools to meet student needs, but making nurses and librarians optional isn't the way. That would be akin to making food service personnel optional because a district is having trouble meeting nutritional guidelines. It doesn't solve the problem and in fact creates a vacuum in which the problem expands.
Now, it's possible I'm biased. My mother was a public librarian, and my father was a high school chemistry teacher who attended a one-room school house in northeast Iowa before ultimately earning degrees from all three of Iowa's public universities – Go, Hawkclonethers! Regardless, it wasn't my educationally-minded parents who taught me to find and use credible online sources. That was our school librarian Ms. Neisess — Okoboji students might know her now as Mrs. Clark. It wasn't my parents who got some pretty serious bleeding under control when a classmate accidentally sliced open my forearm in a junior high science lab. That task fell to our school nurse Mrs. Livingston — and she did a great job jumping right into action.
My point is, the skills these people possess are necessary to a school if it's to provide true learning in a safe environment. I think we've made a mistake in past years by thinking the school librarians, nurses, custodians, lunch ladies and office assistants are somehow auxiliary to the function of the school. They're not. They're essential. They've become essential. Our fast-paced real-world reality has made them essential.
Thankfully, our legislature evidently still sees the value in those folks. The task now falls to us to make sure they don't forget.