Parents, educators at George Washington High School call on CPS to do something after ceiling caves

A large metal beam collapsed, striking a staff member.

SHARE Parents, educators at George Washington High School call on CPS to do something after ceiling caves
Trinity Colòn in front of George Washington High School.

Recent graduate Trinity Colòn said George Washington High School is “a really great school with amazing students and staff, and our facilities need to reflect that.”

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

A group of teachers, alumni and parents of students at George Washington High School on Tuesday called on Chicago Public Schools to do something about the school’s crumbling infrastructure.

They said the building’s degradation has been evident for 10 years and culminated last week in the partial collapse of a school ceiling. The conditions are endangering the students and staff, they said.

The collapse at the South Deering school on June 14 happened after the storm that spawned a tornado in the northwest suburbs. It happened suddenly, during school hours; however, the group said it came as no surprise.

Part of the ceiling collapse at George Washington High School.

Part of the ceiling collapse at George Washington High School. The metal beam struck a security guard, who was taken away in an ambulance.

Courtesy of Donald Davis

Oscar Sanchez, an alumnus, said issues with the roof go back to when he first enrolled in 2011. Parent Nelly Martinez said students have become so accustomed to leaks in the roof that they’ve given it a name: “ceiling juice.”

Donald Davis, a social science teacher at the school and 22-year veteran CPS teacher, said that they’ve alerted CPS to these issues in the past. In 2018, after part of the roof collapsed, CPS spent some money on repairs, but it did not do enough.

Davis said there are a host of issues with the school building, which was built in 1957. Two months ago he created a petition calling attention to the structural issues at the school. So far, it has over 1,650 signatures.

CPS issued a statement in response to the group’s complaints.

“Improving school facilities and addressing pressing issues in our buildings is a District priority. We are committed to working with the respective school communities to determine the best course of action to address issues and make repairs. The District strives to provide timely updates to our CPS families and keep them informed about all serious incidents.”

The ceiling collapse happened after the senior class had been dismissed for the summer, so there were fewer students in the school. “If that had happened during a normal day, it would have hit more than a dozen students,” Martinez said. “That’s how crowded it is.”

A security guard was injured.

At a school where almost 90% of students are Latino and come from low-income households, parents and educators feel it’s a matter of justice.

“Education is a right,” Sanchez said. “That alone should be the reason that both the quality of education and the quality of building should be equal in every school in Chicago.”

Trinity Colòn, who graduated this spring and will attend Northwestern University, praised the way the school formed her but criticized its structural shortcomings. “George Washington is widely known for its diversity and for celebrating Black and Latino culture,” Colòn said. “It’s a really great school with amazing students and staff and our facilities need to reflect that.”

Davis said CPS has proposed adding annexes to accommodate the growing student body, but annexes won’t address the building’s shortcomings. The petition Davis created two months ago cites issues with the roof, asbestos in the walls, lead in the pipes, as well as problems with windows and ventilation.

“I want to see CPS live up to its promise of investing in our communities and our community schools,” Davis said. “We need, we deserve the same facilities as exist around the city of Chicago.”

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