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Not Enough Nurses at Public Schools, Local School Council Members Say

Retired Chicago Public Schools janitor Christopher Swanson’s daughter is not a typical high school sophomore. Christine has occasional seizures and requires medication.

Swanson is concerned not enough nurses are on staff to address his daughter’s medical needs at Steinmetz Academic Centre, the neighborhood high school Christine attends along with more than 2,000 students.

A nurse visits the school two days a week. Swanson said he thinks that is not enough, and wants to see a nurse at the school the entire week or have more staff to accommodate special-needs students.

“You can’t predict when a seizure is going to happen,” Swanson said in an interview after the meeting.

Swanson said it’s disconcerting that a qualified, medical staff member may not be at the school if Christine has a seizure. She needs medicine injection within 25 minutes of a seizure–or she could die.  But, Swanson added, he is not only concerned for Christine.

“I’m not just talking for my child, I am talking for the whole school,” he said

first aid
Image by EisFrei via Flickr

Mary Jane Bunzol, chairwoman of Steinmetz’s Local School Council, said students are currently being sent to the school’s academic counseling center when the nurse is gone. For more serious health issues, “we were told to call 911,” she said.

“My son requires medication,” said Bunzol, who spoke at last September’s CPS board meeting on the same issue. “What happens if he has a reaction to the medicine? The counselors are not qualified.”

Bunzol said some students have serious health issues that only a nurse would be prepared to handle.

“There are peanut allergies, and there are asthma attacks,” she said. “Academic counselors are not nurses.”

Bunzol said Steinmetz has 53 students that require daily nursing services and that CPS officials told her two days for a nurse on staff is sufficient.

Swanson said Steinmetz Principal Eunice Madon has also advocated for more on-staff nurses at the school.

Don Mendro, an assistant principal at Steinmetz could not comment. Madon did not return phone calls for an interview.

Jean McKeown, deputy of instruction for the CPS Office of Special Education and Support, met with Swanson and Bunzol in the hallway Wednesday outside the board meeting.

“When I did a review of the needs of all of the students at Steinmetz, the nursing-needs are addressed as they stand with the two days,” she told the two.

McKeown said 235 students at Steinmetz have disabilities.

“But when this comes up, as we are talking to parents, and the need (for a nurse) increases, the allocation will increase with the need,” McKeown said.

McKeown told Bunzol and Swanson she would speak with officials at Steinmetz and the CPS Nurse Manager Aveegayil Israel.

Israel did not return calls for comment.

Bunzol said due to budget cuts, nurses were reduced at Steinmetz and other schools across the city.

“This is not just being done at Steinmetz,” she said. “We have nurses that are covering three schools. This is a district-wide problem.”

Sue Boeck, special education department chair at Northside College Prep High School, said the school’s nurse, Nancy Swanson, is part-time.

There is also a full-time nurse in one classroom to assist special-needs students.

Nancy Swanson would not comment on how many days a week she provides medical assistance for the school.

Another CPS nurse Mary Tyrell, not at Wednesday’s meeting, said she is overworked.

Tyrell works two days a week at Theodore Roosevelt High School, two days at Foreman High School and a half day at Chicago Academy High School.

“I can’t keep up,” she said.

Tyrell said there are around 1,500 students at Roosevelt and Foreman, and about 600 at Chicago Academy.

“There was a time when they tried to have us in the high schools every day,” Tyrell said.

Now, she has “no time” to talk with students and make phone calls to parents, and “it’s a little overwhelming.”

“It would be wonderful to be at a school more often,” Tyrell said.

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