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INDIANAPOLIS – School nurses in Indiana are asking parents to understand their daily challenges and be empathetic as they find themselves in a difficult situation.

“I have been cursed at more last year than I have in my 23 years of being a nurse,” said Teddi Creekmore, a school nurse for Valparaiso Community Schools.

Just this week, former state superintendent Jennifer McCormick posted on social media. It says in part, “Verbal abuse toward school nurses or anyone helping with contact tracing does not help the COVID situation.”

She’s urging people to stop, while the nurses who are on the front lines are pleading to be heard.

The role of a school nurse is much more than just handing out ice packs or band-aids.

 “It has been mentally exhausting,” added Creekmore.

The pandemic has added responsibilities that nurses like Creekmore and her colleague Angela Buergler are having to balance.

“We have children in crisis,” explained Buergler. “We’ve got mental health issues, and during this pandemic, our kids who already struggle, it’s just putting them over the edge.”

On top of their normal duties, the school nurses are now contact tracers.

“It’s not the health department or somebody from outside, it’s us,” said Creekmore.

The school nurses are calling parents, emailing them, and they’re following guidelines set by the district to send kids home to quarantine, if needed.

“If 40 kids call off with symptoms, we’re calling 40 parents to find out what’s going on,” Creekmore explained.

The extra stress and having to deal with angry parents is leading to a shortage of school nurses. Buergler compared her days sometimes being as stressful as when she was an intensive care unit nurse at a children’s hospital. She never imagined working as a school nurse would be similar to that.

The Indiana Association of School Nurses believes it could also be the long, extended hours.

“Frankly, many of our schools they’re not paid well. They’re not paid for their training and their credentials and the risks they take, so it’s kind of a catch-22 for a lot of school nurses, said Deb Robarge, the executive director of the Indiana Association of School Nurses. “A lot of them are getting out of the profession, and I feel bad because now some schools are saying, ‘We need school nurses,” and they can’t find them.”

For Creekmore and Buergler, their love for the kids and their school outweighs the challenges. Nursing is their calling. They just hope parents can understand that.

“Don’t take it out on a school nurse. They’re just trying to do the best that they can with the guidance that we have from the experts,” added Robarge.

“Give grace,” pleaded Buergler. “We need to come together and get through it. Everybody is just doing the best that we can.”

The school nurses added that any child that calls out sick, they also have to follow up with parents to monitor symptoms and come up with a plan on when they can come back to school.

They’re also busy working with the state to pass along positive COVID-19 cases and contact tracing numbers.