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Claypool apologizes, Prussing parents demand answers about CO incident

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool presented some solutions Wednesday after a carbon monoxide incident at Prussing Elementary School. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool presented some solutions Wednesday to a carbon monoxide incident at a Northwest Side elementary school that hospitalized children and teachers, but his apology was met with more questions and demands from the Prussing Elementary community.

Seventy-one students and eight adults from Prussing were taken to area hospitals Oct. 30 after fire crews reported high levels of carbon monoxide inside the school at 4650 N. Menard. The entire school was evacuated.

Claypool said CPS’ investigation revealed “a number of cascading events,” starting with a malfunctioning regulator on one of the school’s boilers. The carbon monoxide detector was found unplugged, and a fire door that led into the school that should have been closed was open.

An outside firm is evaluating the boiler and making recommendations, he said, and the district has replaced all regulators at Prussing. CPS added eight carbon monoxide detectors throughout the school and by Dec 1. will add 5,000 more in other CPS schools.

CPS has suspended the engineer, a CPS employee who was also responsible for another school, and wants to fire him.

“I am deeply sorry for what the parents, teachers, staff and children went through there,” Claypool said. “What happened at Prussing was unacceptable, and we are taking steps to prevent another incident like it.”

Jacqueline Pinkerton, whose 5-year-old son attends Prussing, chronicled the school’s heat problems.

“Prussing’s thermostats have been broken for years,” she said. “Some rooms get up to 90 degrees, and others have no heat at all. Kids gets nosebleeds and headaches because of the heat in their classrooms and others have to wear coats while they’re learning.”

Presenting her son to board members, she asked, “What’s his life worth?”

Local School Council member Phil Huckelberry said the school community wants a new heating system, the reinstatement of a full-time engineer at Prussing and other schools, and a “thorough internal investigation into the history of the boiler situation at Prussing.”

“We do not feel that CEO Claypool’s information is sufficiently complete, transparent or accurate, and we do not feel the work on safety is complete.”

They also want their engineer, who worked at the school part time, to be given a fair shake.

“If he is terminated today, as CPS officials are seeking, it would only further infuriate our community,” Huckelberry said.

Prussing’s alderman, John Arena (45th), told the board that Prussing’s past and present principals and engineers, as well as its LSC, had documented problems with the boiler since 2013 but CPS hadn’t acted.

A building code change was introduced in City Council on Wednesday to require one carbon monoxide monitor per 10,000 square feet in schools, Arena said.

He called on CPS to use some of the $45 million in capital levy that just passed in the 2016 budget to replace Prussing’s entire heating system and told the district to look up the chain of command for others who are responsible for the breakdown.

“Finding scapegoats is easy,” Arena said.