School nurses may be tasked with COVID-19 testing; superintendent wants to provide hazard pay

School nurses may be tasked with COVID-19 testing; superintendent wants to provide hazard pay

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The state superintendent of education has pushed for hazard pay for school nurses, but lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee moved forward with a proposed budget plan Friday that did not include this extra money for healthcare workers.

On Sept. 1, Superintendent Molly Spearman recommended lawmakers give her agency the flexibility to use unspent CARES Act funding to provide $1.5 million to compensate school nurses for their increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

Spearman reported there are plans to have school nurses test students for the novel coronavirus. She said she believed the potential exposure to the illness warranted hazard pay.

“We are close and strongly recommending that our school nurses be able to do testing at schools,” Spearman said. “It would be optional for those nurses to participate in that. That has not been totally worked out yet. DHEC is working now to make that happen, but I think it would very logical for us to reward our school nurses.”

The president of the South Carolina Association of School Nurses agreed with the superintendent’s recommendation.

“We are on the front line and we are the first to be in danger having to deal with not knowing at first if the person has COVID,” Charlene Hodges said.

Representative Kirkman Finlay said the hazard pay was left off of the Ways and Means Committee amendment because it was unclear if CARES Act funding can be used to provide extra cash for school healthcare workers.

However, the proposal isn’t off the table just yet.

“It will not be final until passed by the full House and any differences with the Senate are worked out,” SCDOE Spokesperson Ryan Brown said. “The Senate Finance Committee did support Superintendent Spearman’s proposals. The full Senate will take it up next week.”

Some hope lawmakers will find a way to include hazard pay for school nurses in the state’s final budget plan.

“A well child can learn better,” Hodges said. “I think through this pandemic, there’s a better understanding of the need for nurses in all schools.”

There are 79 schools in South Carolina without a full-time nurse and 33 that only have a part-time nurse. Spearman requested $6 million to give school districts the ability to fill those positions, and the House Ways and Means' amendment did provide money to pay for more school nurses.

However, there is still some uncertainty about how much money would be available because of the CARES Act requirements.

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