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School nurses share five tips to keep kids healthy at school

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(NEW YORK) — The start of a new school year is a time for new learning, new schedules and new teachers and friends.

Unfortunately, it can also be a time for new illnesses as kids return to spending time inside classrooms.

This school year is also the third consecutive year to take place during the coronavirus pandemic, which is still present even as kids return to school in-person.

ABC News’ Good Morning America spoke with school nurses at schools across the country for their tips to ensuring kids have a great and healthy school year.

Read their tips below:

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1. Make sure your child is up-to-date on vaccinations.

“Please, please vaccinate your children for COVID and all other vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses,” said Robin Cogan, a school nurse in Camden, New Jersey. “We have taken a bit of a backslide on vaccinations for our children, we can reverse that negative trend this school year.”

COVID-19 vaccines are now available for all children ages 6 months and older.

Holly Giovi, a school nurse in Suffolk County, New York, said parents should also make sure their children are up to date on doctor appointments and annual screenings with specialists like the dentist and optometrist.

“COVID is still here and so are many other childhood illnesses, such as the new news we are hearing about polio numbers rising in upstate New York,” she said. “So please keep up with all your doctor appointments and immunizations.”

2. Keep your child home if they don’t feel well.

“Fevers over 100.4 is one indication of not feeling well. Congestion with an excessively runny nose is another example,” said Cogan. “Keep your children home until they are fever-free, or free from other common ailments, like vomiting or diarrhea for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.”

Sandi Braymer, a school nurse in Salem, New York, said it’s important to keep kids to a bedtime on school nights, with limited technology, and to keep them home from school if they are not feeling up to attending.

“Keep your child home if they are sick or not feeling themselves, especially if they haven’t had enough sleep,” she said.

3. Get to know your child’s school nurse.

Gail M. Smith, director of health services for the Pickens County School System in Jasper, Georgia, said parents should introduce themselves to the school nurse and make sure they have all information needed about their child.

“It’s important to keep the lines of communication open between parents, students, schools and healthcare providers,” she said, adding, “Make sure that you have the proper documentation and information in the school clinic about your child and your child’s healthcare needs.”

Giovi said parents should not only provide their contact information to the school nurse, but should also make sure their phone’s voicemail system is set up so that they can be reached, in addition to setting up a backup plan in case there is a conflict when they’re needed.

“Create a relationship with your school nurse even if your child does not have a chronic medical condition, allergies, or any need for accommodations during the school day,” she said. “School nurses do not just take care of students but the entire community, so we want to really know everyone.”

And if your child’s school does not have a school nurse, Cogan said parents should feel empowered to ask for one.

“Advocate for a full-time school nurse in your child’s building all day, every day,” she said, noting that as many as 25% of schools in the United States do not have a nurse on staff.

4. Work at home to set up your child for success.

Braymer said that in addition to making sure kids get enough sleep, it’s almost important to fuel them for the day by making sure they eat a solid breakfast, even if it means grabbing something on the go.

Giovi added that parents can be great examples for their kids and set the tone for their time at school by preparing them properly.

“Get into a great routine including outdoor play, brushing teeth, showering, bedtime routines, reading, getting proper restful sleep, minimizing electronic play usage on devices with a plug, wake-up routines, eating a healthy breakfast, and packing healthy snacks for school,” she said.

5. Keep school nurses aware of changes in your child.

“Keep your school nurse informed of any changes that could impact your child’s mental and/or physical health,” said Cogan. “We are a safe space to help with care coordination and are a wealth of resources should you need confidential assistance.”

She continued, “The school nurse and the parents are on the same team. We want to keep our students safe, healthy, and able to learn. We are your partners in school health and safety.”

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