Don’t let up, CPS, on hiring more school social workers and nurses

The district has 91 more social workers and 57 more nurses than at this time last year, but is still falling short of its goal.

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During the 2019 teachers strike, Lane Tech teacher Katharine Laroche holds up a sign with numbers that show the shortage of nurses, social workers and other staff.

During the 2019 teachers strike, Lane Tech teacher Katharine Laroche holds a sign to spotlight a shortage of nurses, social workers and other staff at her school.

Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

In August, we urged the Chicago Public Schools and City Hall to make good on a pledge to hire hundreds more school social workers and nurses.

Like lots of parents, we were skeptical of the public commitment made by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson to do just that.

Two months later, in October, that hiring pledge became a rallying cry for striking Chicago Teachers Union members, who demanded that Lightfoot and Jackson “put it in writing” in a new contract.

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Fast forward a few months to January 2020, and the latest numbers actually show progress. CPS employs 91 more social workers and 57 more nurses compared to a year ago, according to CPS data first reported by WBEZ.

Overall, CPS now has 332 nurses and 428 social workers districtwide, still short of the goal of having at least one of both for 500-plus schools.

Whether the progress is due to public pressure, to city officials with the right priorities, or a combination of both — it’s worth calling attention to.

Children who are coping with trauma and poverty need social workers to help provide a caring, supportive learning environment for them. Children with disabilities and special medical needs must, by law, have nurses to provide care for them at school.

A child who has nothing worse than a case of the sniffles ought to be able to go see a school nurse. And a child with more significant health or disability issues should never be shortchanged. It’s actually required by law.

To repeat a quote we’ve published before from the late Marca Bristo, founder of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago: “When we fully understand, as a society, that school nurses are not ‘extras’ — because kids with disabilities are not ‘extras’ — we predict this chronic shortage of nurses will magically disappear.”

Let’s keep pushing to get those hiring numbers up.

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