CTU wants blood tests, CPS plan after lead found at Bridgeport’s McClellan Elementary School

The Chicago Teachers Union wants the Chicago Public Schools to develop an expedited testing process for lead contamination after high levels were found at McClellan.

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McClellan special education teacher Kelly Harmon said at a news conference that CPS knew about peeling paint concerns in October. Rooms at the school last week tested positive for elevated lead levels.

Brett Chase/Sun-Times

A Chicago Teachers Union official demanded Monday that Chicago Public Schools officials test the blood of students and staff at a Bridgeport school for lead after high levels of the harmful metal were found in classroom paint.

The demand, one of several, was made after high lead levels were found last week in three rooms, including a special education classroom, at McClellan Elementary School. 

Jackson Potter, CTU vice president, also called for a new, quick process to identify and remediate CPS schools with lead contamination. Even low levels of lead can cause brain damage and young children are at particularly high risk. 

“We have young children, 4 years old and older, who can get cognitive disabilities as a result of ingesting lead,” Potter said at a news conference outside the school at 3527 S. Wallace St. 

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Potter said the union is going to hand out test kits to teachers at McClellan. He said McClellan, built in 1881, also has a roof that needs to be fixed and that a brown liquid has leaked into at least one classroom, which also tested high for lead. The union wants to meet with CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez. 

More than a dozen teachers and parents at the news conference said CPS should have tested for lead months ago. They also noted that a number of special education and “medically fragile” students attend the school.

“Every morning, parents come to this school and we drop our students off thinking they’re going to be safe and well taken care of,” said Cindy Goga, a parent with a seventh-grade daughter and sixth-grade son. “So imagine our dismay when we found out the building itself was dangerous.”

Goga, who said her son has an immune deficiency disorder, thanked teachers who tested paint chips and dust for the presence of lead, moves that she said prompted CPS officials to do their own testing last week. She said parents had complained about the chipping, peeling paint. 

“The teachers, the staff and parents have been complaining for a long time about the falling, chipping paint in the classrooms, in the hallway, and we’ve continuously been ignored,” Goga said. “It’s unacceptable and you failed our children.”

Special education teacher Kelly Harmon said CPS knew about concerns over peeling paint in October, something that the district has so far denied.

“CPS had told our administration that there was nothing to worry about, that it was safe to stay in the rooms, that everything was OK,” Harmon said.

CPS denied that it delayed addressing the situation at McClellan but said, “We have heard that some concerns were shared in October, and we are investigating any possible communication issues.”

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McClellan teachers said they began complaining about paint peeling in a special education classroom in October. By November, the problem worsened.

Provided

CPS said Monday that it has completed remediation in two rooms and that it will test all classrooms and other areas in the building over winter break. Students were moved from the affected classrooms.

A McClellan email to parents over the weekend provided information about lead testing, other resources and the number for a lead hotline operated by the Chicago Department of Public Health: (312) 747-5323. 

Some teachers and union officials have said they believe the lead contamination isn’t confined to one school.

“We have schools — dozens of them around the system — in the same situation. They just haven’t taken upon themselves to test, and neither has CPS,” Potter said. 

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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