For many years, the issue of school nurses in Chicago Public Schools has been a sore point for kids, parents and the nurses themselves. Last year, according to WBEZ, the district had only directly hired 300 school nurses, though it operates more than 500 schools. Since the mid-1990s, CPS has been contracting with private nurse staffing agencies to fill the gap. In 2015, they awarded RCM Technologies a four-year, $30 million contract (with option to renew for up to two more years) to provide nurses.
Sarah Kaiser is one of the nurses employed through RCM. Since 2015, she has been the school nurse at Blaine Elementary in Lakeview. When CPS announced that schools would be closed starting March 17, RCM notified her that she would only be paid her 40 hours of accrued sick time.
On Friday, when CPS announced schools would stay closed into April, RCM informed her that her health insurance will end effective March 31.
Kaiser is a single mom of three children and told me she has an autoimmune disease. “Thankfully, my children are on their dad’s health insurance, but this puts me at a significant financial hardship,” she said by email.
Will CPS Honor Its Staffing Contracts?
While other large employers, like the University of Chicago, are honoring their contracts with staffing agencies, Chicago Public Schools apparently is not. Last week, University of Chicago announced it would ensure contracted cafeteria workers would continue to receive pay through June 13, the end of the spring quarter.
Not so for CPS, it appears. “As soon as I heard schools were closing for two weeks in March I contacted a person at CPS through family services who told me CPS was looking into paying their contracted employees,” Kaiser wrote. “Today [Friday March 20] I was informed I needed to work directly with my company, RCM. If CPS paid their vendors, the contract employees like myself could keep their insurance benefits and be paid.”
It’s a sad irony that, no sooner did the ink dry on a contract that promised to put a unionized school nurse in every school that, the pandemic has given the district opportunity to cut costs on the backs of a subset of school nurses.
I’m sharing Kaiser’s story in hopes that Chicago media will look into this further and ordinary Chicagoans will keep in mind that many school nurses are not covered by the district’s promise to pay staff during this difficult time.