Chicago parents concerned about lack of school nurses as nation faces shortage

Posted at 12:36 PM, Dec 07, 2018

As the nation continues to face a shortage of nurses, parents in Chicago say they’re feeling the effects particularly hard when it comes to their children’s public schools.

Mason Rodriguez is a smart, gregarious 6-year-old boy, who enjoys going to school. When he comes home each day, his mother, Laurel Henson, asks if he had daydreams. That’s because Mason has epilepsy, and the word daydreams is used to describe his seizures.

Henson says her son’s seizures are getting worse.

“He has them every couple days,” Henson says.

Mason’s school has no dedicated nurse, and the medication he’s been given in the event of a serious seizure is not something a teacher can administer. 

“The issue is they have no one on staff at the school, obviously because there’s no nurse to administer the medicine, because it has to be done rectally and they have to be certified,” Henson explains.

As a result, Henson says the school told her that in an emergency, they would call 911. But she worries officials wouldn’t get there fast enough.

“For the district rep to say, ‘Were not a Band Aid service,’ it’s like, this is not a Band Aid issue. This is my kid’s life, and there’s other kids, ya know?” Henson says.

According to the American Nurses Association, the nationwide nursing shortage is so bad that by 2022 there will be more registered nurse jobs available than any other profession.

The shortage has hit Chicago Public Schools particularly hard. 

A $26 million plan--put forward and passed by the Board of Education just this week--aims to add more nurses to the district’s schools, including Mason’s. But not all parents see this as the solution, because the nurses would be temporary.

“People from temp agencies have come in untrained, unreliable,” says Wendy Katten.

Katten is with Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, an education advocacy group made up of parents. She says there are only 100 certified nurses, and Chicago has over 500 schools. Some parents have now left jobs to be at school with special needs kids.

“There are three federal laws that you know are in place to protect children, and those laws aren’t being followed,” Katten says. “The fact that parents are sitting in schools missing work, not getting a pay check because the district is violating, you know, laws, is outrageous.”

Chicago Public Schools declined our requests for an interview, but sent us a statement saying, in part, they’re also hiring “20 board employed nurses…” and that they’re working to “ensure every student receives the support and services they need…”

“Ensuring greater consistency in nursing services is a top priority for the district, and we are working to strengthen staffing by hiring an additional 20 board-employed nurses and expanding the pool of available vendor support. We will continue working with schools and families to gather feedback and ensure every student receives the supports and services they need to access a high quality education,” read part of the statement.

Henson thinks temporary nurses could definitely help her son, but she says it isn’t a long-term fix.