Second opinions: Residents critical after school closes due to lack of nurses

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Fredonia resident and parent Pete Correale, an accomplished comedian and writer, addressed the Board of Education and District Administration regarding the nursing issue.

“Do better.”

That was the sentiment vocalized by Fredonia School District resident Mimi Joint and shared by several other members of the school community who spoke out against the District after a nursing shortage resulted in school being canceled last Friday.

“Whoever is the leader here, do better for the kids, for the staff, for the Principal who gets a sick, hurt kid in their office,” Joint said. “… Do better, Fredonia.”

In the first portion reserved for public comments during a recent Board of Education meeting, Pete Correale, an accomplished comedian and writer, addressed the Board of Education and District Administration regarding the nursing issue. While he has made a career out of making people laugh, Correale’s strong New York City accent carried a much more serious and direct tone as a parent addressing the District’s inability to adequately staff its nursing offices. The District is short-staffed after a recent resignation from a School Nurse in recent weeks, with only one Registered Nurse (RN) and one Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) between the four schools: Wheelock School, Fredonia Elementary School, Fredonia Middle School and Fredonia High School.

“It’s really disturbing that one nurse (being absent) shut down the entire school district,” Correale said. “… I can’t express enough how embarrassing it is for the school district to be closed because one nurse couldn’t be in. I hope you people understand that we all feel this way as parents. It was insane that that happened. … Let’s not let that happen again.”

Fredonia School District resident Mimi Joint called on the Board of Education and District Administration to “do better” regarding the nursing shortage at the District.

Fredonia Superintendent Dr. Brad Zilliox responded to Correale by stating the issue was not the fault of any one individual for being unavailable to the District on the day of the closure. “By no means was this about blame or anything like that. It just so happened that on that day, we did not have a registered nurse,” Zilliox said.

Correale responded, “Do you understand how bizarre that sounds? You are closing a whole school district because you don’t have a registered nurse. Do you understand how insane that is? I have never heard of a school closing because they don’t have a nurse. We should make sure that it does not happen.”

Zilliox acknowledged he agreed with Correale’s statement.

Later in the meeting, Fredonia resident and parent Rhianna Kelley addressed the Board of Education, before Joint’s comments followed hers.

“Every day when I send my daughter to school, I am entrusting that she will be well cared for and supported with her each and every need. I am entrusting her life and well being to the District and the staff at Wheelock,” Kelley said. “The staff at Wheelock does not disappoint. We have an incredible gift in this facility in the people who give their all every single day. However, I am deeply disappointed by the District’s lack of attentiveness, accountability, and understanding of the needs at Wheelock.”

Kelley noted email correspondence between the District and its families regarding the lack of a School Nurse at Wheelock. Kelley highlighted that the District is telling its parents and guardians that their students will need to be picked up from school if they are sick or injured.

“If my child is sick, I will absolutely be there to take her home. However, what constitutes an injury? If she has a bloody nose and there is no one there to assess and treat her, do I need to leave work to come and pick her up? What if she is hurt on the playground and has a scrape that needs to be cleaned or bandaged? While this might seem dramatic to you, where do these responsibilities fall? These are real life circumstances, and in real life, I cannot and should not have to leave work to provide the care that the school should be providing,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the need for School Nurses is “absolutely paramount” and found it “incredibly insulting” that the District referred to the school closure because of the nursing shortage as “unforeseen circumstances.”

“Fredonia is supposed to be a family who takes care of each other. Instead, as of late, it seems all that we are doing is passing the blame around in hopes that people stop talking about it. There is not a formal plan and the community is being misled by the statement of ‘We are aware and we are working on it.’ … The reality of the situation is that our students and staff are suffering and are not being properly cared for,” Kelley said.

Kristi Leone immediately followed Joint at the microphone. Kristi Leone is the mother of Elliana Leone, a Fredonia student with Spina Bifida who does not receive the accommodations she needs and deserves from the District. Kristi Leone has made a habit of standing up for what her daughter deserves from the school she attends. She joked at the end of her speech, which was centered around the needs of students and staff at the District, “Hopefully, I won’t be back anytime soon.”

The Board also listened to comments from two Teaching Assistants who urged the District to address its compensation for Salaried Support Staff Association (SSSA) members, including nurses.

“We recognize there is work to be done between the District and the SSSA. We’re open to hearing the most recent offer that’s been proposed to the District,” Zilliox said.

Board of Education member Tom Hawk also highlighted the District’s commitment to pay an interim Middle School Assistant Principal a per diem rate of $500, but substitute pay for School Nurses falls below half that figure. Zilliox said that substitute School Nurse pay will “absolutely” be further evaluated.

At the recent meeting, the District approved the hiring of a per diem School Nurse Assistant, Brigitte Hirschman; as well as three per diem Nurse Substitutes: Steve Cobb, Nichole Dispense, and Hannah Gullo, pending fingerprint clearance.

“We are trying to bring people into the District who have medical training,” Zilliox said. “… We are hopeful this will bridge the gap to the next thing that will hopefully come sooner rather than later.”


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