CHEYENNE – Kay Dersham says she no longer wants to put her nursing license or her ethics on the line after the recent decision made by the Laramie County School District 2 Board of Trustees.
The trustees for the district based in Pine Bluffs voted unanimously Monday to make quarantining optional for students and faculty exposed to an individual who tested positive with COVID-19. Instead, against state and county health department recommendations, they may attend school for two weeks while wearing a mask with no required test.
Dersham resigned two days after the protocol was passed, and said the school board gave her no other choice.
“I just can’t look the other way anymore,” she said.
She is one of two nurses who serve the rural district and has been a health care provider for 40 years in Laramie County. In the early 1980s, she was the first school nurse to work in LCSD2, and helped build the program from the ground up. She also spent 25 years at the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department before returning to nursing.
She said she became a school nurse because it was as if she was serving her own family. She never thought she would have to walk away from the children and staff she loves.
But in all of those years providing care, she said this was the first time an employer asked her to do something that could potentially affect her license or was unethical.
“They’re just putting school nurses in such bad situations,” she said, “and no one will step up.”
In her letter of resignation to LCSD2 Superintendent Justin Pierantoni and the board members, she referred to the expectations set for her in her job description, as well as from federal, state and county health agencies.
She wrote, “I do not believe the school nurses are being treated like health professionals who have the education and background in communicable diseases, and who understand the implications of the pandemic. In my opinion, the COVID situation has become political, with poor decisions that adversely affect the health of my students and the role of a school nurse.”
She said she was asked to turn the other way when students and staff didn’t wear masks on the buses, which is federal law and was even required in LCSD1 before the Cheyenne district passed its overarching mask mandate.
The Wyoming State Board of Nursing administrative rules also state that a registered nurse is to “take preventative measures to protect the client, others and self.” It specifies promoting a safe and therapeutic environment by identifying unsafe care situations. Dersham said she is no longer adhering to those expectations, either.
In the grounds for discipline, it states her license can be removed due to performing unsafe care, which she said she was asked to do. She said this specifically relates to being asked not to follow the Wyoming Department of Health and county health recommendations regarding COVID-19 quarantining.
Kim Deti, a spokesperson for the state health department, confirmed the new protocol taken up by LCSD2 was inconsistent with current recommend-ations and guidelines.
The rules were made clear, she said.
“You isolate when you have been infected with the virus, even when you don’t have symptoms,” Deti said. “You quarantine when you might have been exposed to the virus, even when you don’t have symptoms.”
Kathy Emmons, director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, also agreed with Dersham. She said Dersham was a phenomenal nurse, and she was going to miss the opportunity to work with her, but she had been put in a difficult situation.
Emmons said she is another casualty of the pandemic.
It was difficult for Dersham not only to ignore guidelines and rules set for her, but as one of two nurses in the district, she said she was also overwhelmed.
She understood why masking was a choice for parents, but said she disagreed because there were consequences associated with that freedom.
COVID cases and quarantines rising throughout the school district were impacting her ability to do her job. She said almost all of her time was dedicated to contact tracing and other COVID-19 responsibilities.
Even on weekends, Dersham and the other nurse were required to come in and filter through the recent COVID cases. She said over Labor Day weekend, there were no breaks, and call after call came in to add another student or faculty member who tested positive to the stack for tracing.
Although she was dedicated to helping provide this service to the school, she said it started to feel as though she was putting the other students’ safety in jeopardy.
With all of her time being dedicated to COVID, she didn’t have the opportunity to thoroughly address students, some of whom are diabetics or have seizures. She began having to train other employees in emergency care, just in case she was not able to respond.
“We don’t just put Band-Aids on,” she said. “There’s so much that goes into school nursing.”
Dersham said she didn’t want to completely abandon the students, though, and will work until Sept. 30. She is creating a transition plan and is continuing to get immunizations records, screenings and other necessary tasks done.
She said it was not her intention to put the district in a bind, or make the students suffer, she just doesn’t feel she is providing proper care anymore.
Dersham said she knows many nurses across the state who also feel this way, as school boards are making decisions with no medical background. She believes this could happen anywhere.
“This is not even about District No. 2,” she said, “this is statewide. We can’t have school boards making motions that go against county and state orders, or recommendations.”