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Some CPS schools still waiting for cleaning supplies after district promised additional resources

“It’s a concern that they don’t have these supplies and they’re reaching out to parents for donations,” said one parent.

taft freshman academy
A teacher at Taft High School’s Freshman Academy, which serves more than 1,200 seventh- ninth graders, said no additional supplies from CPS had arrived by Thursday.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Trying to calm fears of coronavirus in the city’s more than 600 school buildings, Chicago Public Schools officials last week promised quick delivery of extra hand sanitizer, soap and cleaning supplies.

But the school system acknowledged Thursday what parents and staffers already knew first-hand: Some schools still have not received the much-needed supplies. And with a coronavirus pandemic bearing down while CPS keeps its schools open, unclean schools could prove to be dangerous.

“Delivery of additional hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to 600+ schools is ongoing,” CPS responded on Twitter to a concerned parent. “If your school does not see any by tomorrow (Friday), please follow up here via [direct message] with your school’s information.”

Abbey Hambright, the mom of a second grader at National Teachers Academy on the Near South Side, said she’s worried about the school’s cleanliness given CPS’ history of dirty buildings, and said she and her husband have considered keeping their son home if a deep clean isn’t done at NTA soon.

“If they’re keeping schools open they should at the very least disinfect them,” Hambright said. “We’re kind of torn if it’s the best idea to keep sending him to school especially since the risks are going up every day.”

A teacher at NTA wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday that the school was running low on disinfectant wipes and asked parents to drop off supplies. Another one at NTA reported that student bathrooms had only cold water for washing hands.

“It’s a concern that they don’t have these supplies and they’re reaching out to parents for donations,” Hambright said, adding that teachers shouldn’t have to be the ones providing cleaning products, either.

The reports prompted the American Federation of Teachers union to survey Chicago members online about who provided disinfecting supplies and whether schools have been “thoroughly cleaned” since a staffer at a special needs high school tested positive last week for COVID-19.

A teacher at Taft High School’s Freshman Academy, which serves more than 1,200 seventh- ninth graders on the Northwest Side, said no additional supplies from CPS had arrived by Thursday. All tissues and hand sanitizer at the school were donated by parents, and the teachers themselves bought cleaning spray.

“Students and teachers are anxious and worried,” the teacher said, asking to remain anonymous. “It is increasingly challenging to stay focused on academics.”

The Taft teacher said custodial staff are working hard but appear to be understaffed, and acknowledged that other schools with older, dirtier buildings are more at risk and might not have the privilege of parents being able to buy and donate supplies.

Another teacher at O’Keeffe Elementary in South Shore said the school has been running through bottles of hand sanitizer and is still waiting for more to arrive.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said that there is “no shortage of cleaning supplies or soap” available to schools in CPS warehouses and suggested that dispensers simply aren’t being refilled quickly enough.

She also said janitors are supposed to be “disinfecting high-touch areas, such as handrails, light switches, and doorknobs, in all schools on a daily basis,” which isn’t part of their normal routine. CPS’ contracts with the private companies that clean its schools don’t require custodians to wipe classroom surfaces such as desks and tables.

Extra cleaning has been authorized over the weekend.

Meanwhile schools are fending for themselves.

“Wipes are among the most in-demand items in the country and we are scheduled to receive a shipment soon and will distribute as soon as possible,” Bolton said. “Surface wipes will be given directly to educators by the Facility Building Managers for their individual classrooms. We thank schools for their patience.”

CPS has struggled to keep classrooms clean since it privatized the bulk of its cleaning services in an effort originally designed to save money and lessen headaches for principals, as the Chicago Sun-Times has previously reported.