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Where are Israel’s school nurses?

I remember Nurse Sara from Jezreel Primary School in Afula of the 1960s and 1970s. Always in a blue uniform and a pure white coif. Someone you could go to during class or recess and get a warm, sweet cup of tea. Someone who would always place a cool hand on your forehead, even if afterward she would take your temperature with a thermometer – the fragile kind, with mercury.

Sara was the one who vaccinated us. We stood in a long row next to her room, waiting for the shot. Sara gave us the first and only class in sex education. Today it seems anachronistic and naïve, but it seems to me it was far more accommodating and enveloping than the profusion of information and porn to which children today are exposed on the internet.

I hear the wearisome bickering between the education system and the Health Ministry over the vaccinations. I read the remarks of exhausted parents about the home tests and the long wait in line for tests needed for a Green Pass. I read about the lengthy and frequent self-isolations. Sometimes they seem exaggerated and hysterical. They disrupt the lives of the children and the parents. And I think how it could all have been different, if the authorities hadn’t removed the institution of the school nurse from our children’s life.

On the Health Ministry website I learn that the school nurse still exists, supposedly, but from the numbers I understand that it’s some sort of bureaucratic entity that’s in charge of thousands of children. Not a personal nurse for every school, not someone who knows each boy and girl and will know how to help if she sees that their face doesn’t look well.

School children waiting to get vaccinated outside the nurse's room, 2srcsrc8
Tomer Appelbaum

I try to imagine what our children’s life would look like now, in the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic, if there were a nurse in their school. Someone who knows. Someone you can go to if you don’t feel well, without being afraid of the coronavirus debacle. Someone who could give the children quick tests before whole families go into a tailspin. Someone who will explain to the children why it’s important to wear a mask. Who will talk to them about the vaccinations. Who will update the parents and explain the scale of the exposure and the level of the danger. Who will warn, but who will also assuage fears. Who will be in touch with the children in isolation, with those who have fallen ill, and will keep tabs on them after they recover, too. Who will check their condition and talk to them about the later symptoms.

I’m thinking of someone who will know what to say to a child in whose family there has been illness or death. A woman who will be able to refer the parents to additional services that the children need after a year and a half of social distancing and remote learning. I am not talking about the functionaries of the teachers’ organizations, who speak fervently about rights and hours and percentages. I am not talking about politicians, who ostensibly speak about children but in whose eyes I see budget clauses and ruling power. That is not what our children need in 2021.

I don’t know exactly when the school nurse disappeared from the education system. Various sources talk about a process that started at the beginning of this century, a little less than 20 years ago. I do know for certain that when my daughter first started school, a little more than 20 years ago, there was no nurse there. Maybe there was someone who was in charge of a few schools and dealt with the vaccinations, but a real nurse was nowhere in sight. More’s the pity.

If only someone will see the need, grasp the importance and restore the wonderful institution of the nurse to the life of the school and of the children.

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