Clean Up Your Mess, CPS: New Report Released As Community Protests Against School Conditions Intensify

Chicago Light Brigade report accuses Chicago Public Schools, the Department of Public Health and Alderman Moore of failing to inform parents of dangerous school conditions and allowing hazards to continue unaddressed for nearly 1,000 school days.

CHICAGO—(ENEWSPF)—October 21, 2014. Amid growing complaints unsanitary conditions and inadequate maintenance in Chicago’s public schools, Chicago Light Brigade (CLB) has released a report stating Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administrators, over a period of at least five years, knowingly exposed up to two thousand, mostly low income Rogers Park children to significant amounts of peeling lead based paint and lead based paint dust at Gale Math and Science Academy. The group is holding a press conference and protest Wednesday at CPS headquarters to debut their report, present recommendations and raise awareness of the unacceptable conditions that were allowed to develop at Gale.

Lead is an extraordinarily dangerous poison. Exposure even in small amounts, especially in developing children, can cause irreversible brain damage. Children in buildings with flaking lead paint are also exposed to lead dust, which is spread by hand and transferred on clothes by children to their homes. A 2012 Chicago Reader article sums up the acute nature of this hazard: “It doesn’t take much: a sugar packet’s worth of lead dust scattered over an area the size of a football field is enough to poison a child.”

The report charges that CPS withheld information from Gale administrators and parents about hazards at their school and illegally refused to comply with Freedom of Information Requests filed by CLB activists until attorneys intervened, prompting action from Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. It also states that the Chicago Department of Public Health and Ald Joe Moore (49) have each contributed to keeping parents in the dark about lead hazards at the school.” Again, this is consistent with the latest version..

According to internal CPS documents acquired by CLB, testing for lead at the school was first performed in 2009. Despite results showing hazards in public areas used by all students, no action was taken by CPS and parents were not informed of the health risks associated with exposure to lead based paint. In August of 2013 a second round of tests revealed lead-based paint hazards at fifteen locations in the school, and nine out of ten tested classrooms. Again, no action was taken, parents were not informed, and students and staff continued to be exposed every day they were in the building. 

Following years of repeated requests for action by Gale administrators, CLB began a campaign to force CPS to take action to remove lead hazards and make other repairs to the school, including faulty fire alarms and leaking roofs. Although Alderman Moore denied knowledge of the issue, Moore’s staffers attended LSC meetings where ongoing maintenance issues were discussed.

Once the media began reporting on hazards at Gale, a new round of testing was secretly performed by CPS which proved widespread lead contamination throughout the facility. According to CPS documents, lead based paint was found in multiple classrooms, offices, and hallways as well as on entry doors, railings and post caps in the stairwells – surface areas which are touched by children’s hands everyday.

Because of CPS’ inaction and the subsequent cover up by administrators and Alderman Moore, lead based paint hazards at Gale were allowed to continue unabated for almost one thousand school days. In light of these facts, it is likely that CPS management of lead based paint across its entire system is deeply flawed. 

While pressure from CLB and other community members has resulted in long overdue lead remediation efforts at Gale, CLB’s findings have a number of community members asking what else CPS might be hiding. “It’s a story you’ll hear from everyone who tries to track down information about a school: CPS just doesn’t respond to FOIA requests, unless they’re forced to.  They don’t want to tell us what they knew, when they knew it, or what other schools might contain hazards. They’re supposed to have lead reports for these schools on file, and we want to see them,” said local organizer Kelly Hayes.

Other community members believe that a lack of accountability is the root problem. “If CPS can find $10 million to spend on new office furniture, they can find the money to lead test our public schools and make that information public. The problem is that they’re not accountable. If you want them to be accountable, they need to be elected, not appointed. Until then, the paint’s going to keep peeling, and the rats and roaches aren’t going anywhere.” said Chicago teacher Jerica Jurado.

CLB makes a series of recommendations in their report, including:

CPS must locate every individual, parent, or guardian that was present or had children in Gale during the period 2009-2014, and inform them of possible exposure to lead based paint and lead based paint dust.

An independent investigation, by medically trained personnel not employed or connected to CPS, CDPH, or other non- federal governmental bodies in the State of Illinois should be undertaken into management of lead based paint at all CPS facilities.

A formal complaint should be lodged with the United States Environmental Protection Agency- Region 5 regarding CPS management of hazardous lead in all of its facilities.

An independently administered fund must be created to provide ongoing medical support for families impacted by lead exposure at Gale.

Because all lead based paint is at least thirty-six years old, exposed paint at all CPS locations must be considered a hazard and abated as soon as possible.

Enrollment based funding cuts to Gale must be rescinded to restore the school to resource parity with institutions that were not burdened by extreme facilities mismanagement. 

Selected Past Media Coverage:

May 13, 2014, CBS Chicago: Residents Want Funds To Fix Gale Math And Science Academy

May 22, 2014, CBS Chicago: Rogers Park School Is Crumbling Around Students, Parents Tell CPS

May 23, 2014, DNAinfo: CPS to Remove Lead Paint From Gale School After Complaints

June 2, 2014, Chicago Tonight: Rogers Park School Struggles to Survive, Embattled Elementary School Determined to be Heard