Striking is a Tier 3 Intervention
The Chicago Teachers’ Union is striking for the school social work staffing levels our students deserve.
On October 17th, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike after 10 months of negotiating with the Chicago Public Schools district. Front and center in our union’s contract demands is the fight to ensure that every CPS school has a designated school social worker. As it stands, CPS currently has 420 social workers serving 299,394 students. This makes for an approximate ratio of social workers 1 social worker for every 730 students. These staffing levels fall woefully short of nationally recommended ratios of 1 to 250 for schools considered to have a “normal” amount of trauma, and 1 to 50 for schools considered to have high amounts of trauma.
With the current staffing levels, it is commonplace for CPS social workers to split their time between 2-4 different schools throughout the week. Social workers are thus forced to prioritize meeting IEP and 504 plan minutes, leaving minimal time and capacity for the tiered supports so many of our buildings need.
With the current staffing levels, it is commonplace for CPS social workers to split their time between 2-4 different schools throughout the week.
In our stead, teachers are often left to perform trauma-related services, for which they have not been given training, on top of managing a classroom of up to 38 students. As a result, school staff across the district face burn-out and vicarious trauma. It takes only a cursory glance at surrounding districts in Evanston, Niles, and Tinley Park to see that a better way is possible for our students.
At the crux of successful social work practice is relationships, and relationships can be hard-won in Chicago Public Schools. The ability to establish trust and rapport is significantly impaired when social workers sometimes go 4 days without seeing their students.
Furthermore, our city is facing a reckoning with the decimation of mental health services that have been inflicted primarily on the South and West Sides of the city. It is estimated that one third of the population in Cook County Jail has a diagnosed mental illness. For many of these people, the only time that they will receive treatment is when they are incarcerated. This is a contract fight, but it’s also a fight to shift the conversation in Chicago. After decades of divestment from our poorest communities, the Chicago Teachers Union is leveraging our position at the bargaining table to secure tangible wins for the students and families of Chicago. Time after time, we’ve seen the city purse opened for developments and patronage hires, but it always seems to be dried up when it comes to our public schools.
As social workers, we are charged by our national code of ethics to “ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully.” It is with that spirit that social workers within CPS have entered contract negotiations for our schools.
I’m striking because I can no longer tell a hurting child that no, they cannot have lunch with me tomorrow because I will be at one of my “other” schools.
I’m striking because I believe in the work that we do as social workers, and I know that the current staffing levels are not conducive to the frequency and quality of services that our students deserve. I’m striking because I can no longer tell a hurting child that no, they cannot have lunch with me tomorrow because I will be at one of my “other” schools. I’m striking because it’s time we treat mental illness in our schools, not our jails.