Why has CPS awarded a new contract to a failed school cleaning service?

Chicago Public Schools has led the state in implementing policies to protect children with asthma. To re-engage with a private company that has put the health of these children at risk makes no sense.

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One of the few positive consequences of the ghastly COVID-19 pandemic is that pediatric asthma attacks dropped sharply last year. Hospital emergency room visits due to asthma plummeted by a startling 74%. 

Schools, which can be a breeding ground for germs and viruses, are one contributor to our nation’s asthma epidemic. That is why we were disturbed by the recent news that the Chicago Public Schools will once again engage Aramark to clean its schools. 

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There are many reasons to celebrate the return of children to schools, some for the first time in over a year. Yet this time away from the school environment may actually have proven good for their health. This is particularly true for students with asthma. While emergency department visits by children decreased overall by 46% during the pandemic, asthma-related visits plummeted by 74%.

School closures have been identified as one, but not the only, explanation for this finding.

Among the many environmental asthma triggers commonly found in school buildings are cockroaches and other pests, animal droppings and mold. The presence of these triggers was made blatantly clear in a 2018 Sun-Times investigative series that documented, among other things, filth in schools, a 25% re-inspection failure rate, and falsification of inspection reports by Aramark. Had city inspectors, rather than a well-connected contractor, falsified reports, they would have been terminated and put on the “do not hire” list. Yet three years later, the Board of Education seems ready to forgive and forget. 

CPS has led the state in implementing policies to protect children with asthma. They have trained staff to respond to medical emergencies and partnered with community organizations, including mine, to teach students with asthma how to avoid triggers and manage their conditions. 

To now turn around and re-engage with a private company that has been shown to put the health of these students at risk makes no sense. CPS can and should do better.

Erica Salem, MPH
Senior director, strategy, programs and policy
Respiratory Health Association
Chicago

Hit the unvaccinated with fines

We can be fined for not shoveling snow off our sidewalks, for littering, for failing to wear seat belts, for expired license plates and city stickers, for driving under the influence and for possessing an unlicensed gun.

So why can’t states and cities fine people who can’t show proof of having been vaccinated, or who present false documentation? They are as much a menace to society, their loved ones and themselves as if they were driving drunk. There is no constitutional right against fines aimed at protecting the common good. Only the 8th Amendment addresses such fines, and it prohibits only excessive fines. 

No one has a right to put the lives of others at risk by going unvaccinated. Have at it, legislators. Money coming in to city and state treasuries beats money going out in the form of lottery-style rewards in a vaccination derby — reward for nothing more than having done the right thing.

Ted Z. Manuel, Hyde Park

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