As Chicago braced itself for a winter storm and subzero temperatures, the school district canceled another day of classes on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union published a list of grievances from anonymous school teachers and administrators complaining about the school district’s response to weather-related safety concerns.
As temperatures began falling Tuesday evening, the district said classes and all after-school activities would be closed Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a previously scheduled in-service day for educators, and students do not attend school, which means families of some 361,000 children will have to find child care for the rest of the week.
On Tuesday, the union posted on its blog a list of storm-related safety concerns that spans more than a dozen schools and includes such complaints as slippery sidewalks and exits, unplowed or poorly plowed sidewalks and parking lots, and at least one concern about chilly classrooms.
Some of the complaints echo concerns raised last year about potential neglect of school facilities and grounds since the district privatized its janitorial contracts. Many schools now have part-time engineers and a reduced custodial staff and rely on private contractors and district facilities crews for salting and snow removal.
Reached for comment on the list, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said that the facilities crew had prioritized heat in classrooms and buildings and had been working quickly to address concerns about snowy school grounds. She said “the severity and timing of the storm” — Monday’s snowfall coincided with the morning drop-off for many families — created “minor delays and challenges” in snow removal.
“School staff and vendor partners continue to work diligently to ensure school properties are as cleared as possible while also making sure school buildings are prepared for extreme temperatures,” spokeswoman Emily Bolton said.
She declined to address individual complaints.
Some items on the union’s list fall outside of the school district’s jurisdiction: for example, the list includes examples of unplowed streets around schools where teachers and parents park.
The district said it will likely add additional instructional days to the end of the year to make up for missed classroom time.
Among the complaints listed by the union on Tuesday:
Our parking lots, stairs, and sidewalks were not shoveled or salted. (Mount Vernon Elementary School)
“Our parking lot was 100 percent unplowed and still was full at dismissal. Additionally, the sidewalks around the school were not shoveled very well. The last few weeks I have fallen twice on school grounds due to unsalted ice. The small area outside the school has also not been shoveled although that is where we bring all the students at the end of the day for dismissal. (Carson Elementary)
“Sidewalks were not cleared. Staff and admin had to run the snowblower and shovel. Not sure if anyone is clear on whether Aramark/Sodexo employees are supposed to do any snow removal. (Disney II)
The parents and principal shoveled the sidewalks because Sodexo didn’t show up on time, parking lot was not plowed. (Prescott Elementary)
Some of the complaints predate this week’s storm:
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, I walked out one of our exits to dismiss students. I took two steps and fell backwards on the ice. I felt a crunch in my neck. I tried to stop my students from walking on the ice. Simultaneously, a sixth-grade class dismissed, and one of the students fell and hit his head on the ground. I asked a parent to get security and we were able to stop classes from using this particular exit.
It was a very dangerous situation and I feel it was incredibly irresponsible to neglect all of our exits prior to dismissal during weather like this. (Bell Elementary)