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EDITORIAL: No more empty promises, CPS, on hiring more social workers and nurses

There is nothing more essential when it comes to creating a peaceful, safe environment where children can learn.

Chicago Public Schools headquarters, 42 W. Madison St. Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

This is a story about schools that is best told straight, by the numbers.

According to the National Association of Social Workers, every school ought to have at least one social worker for every 250 students. Schools with lots of students who face greater challenges to learning should have much smaller ratios, as low as one social worker per 50 students.

In Chicago Public Schools, the ratio is 1 to 730.

We welcome the pledge this week by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to start closing that huge gap. On Tuesday, she spoke at a West Side high school and promised to hire 200 additional social workers and 250 nurses, of which there is also a dire shortage, over the next five years.

But now the administration must make good on that pledge, which leaves us skeptical, because we’ve heard this promise from other mayors and CPS before. Lightfoot will have to find the money — $55 million a year once all the additional staff are hired.

Expert after expert will tell you the same thing: Public schools that serve children who live with trauma and the threat of violence every day need more trained adults who can provide social and emotional support to kids. There is nothing more essential when it comes to creating a peaceful, safe environment where children can learn.

Punishment as the default response — cops in the halls and suspensions — does nothing in the long run for the school or the child.

School nurses, too, are essential. Yet CPS has too often relied on nurses from outside agencies who don’t show up, or quit, or don’t know how to care for a particular child’s special medical needs. CPS has a moral and legal obligation to provide nursing services to students with special medical needs.

Hiring dozens more social workers and nurses, or even a couple of hundred, won’t end shortages that have persisted for decades.

But it would be a long overdue move toward a more nurturing school culture.

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