While meeting with a social worker earlier this year at Lowell Elementary School in Humboldt Park, a parent noticed something odd about the window in the second-floor office.
There was a small cross of duct tape on the glass. It covered a bullet hole, the parent was told.
The school employee “made a joke” out of it, but the parent — who asked not to be named — was appalled.
“To me, it’s very sad,” the parent says.
In a city with a reputation for shootings and violence, the schools are sometimes portrayed as places of tranquility and escape. But bullets flying on the streets sometimes make it into school buildings.
Bullet holes and shattered windows from gunfire have been reported at 11 schools in the past five years, Chicago Public Schools records examined by the Chicago Sun-Times show, mostly in South Side neighborhoods racked by violence.
At one school, the same classroom had windows shot out twice in a year, the records show.
No one was shot or otherwise hurt in any of those incidents, many of which happened during hours when schools were closed. When students were present, school officials say counselors were brought in to help them deal with the emotional impact.
Just when the bullet went through the window at Lowell isn’t clear. That incident wasn’t included among the reports since 2013 of gunshots at 11 schools that CPS released in response to a public records request.
Parents who told a reporter about the bullet hole in the window at Lowell say it’s been there for quite some time and that it’s in a room that’s supposed to be a safe place for sometimes-troubled kids.
CPS officials say they know the list of buildings pierced by gunfire they have could be incomplete, saying in a letter, “This information is not tracked in any one record or database.”
But Jadine Chou, CPS’s chief safety and security officer, says it’s unlikely the listing missed many shootings. Chou says it’s “a rare occasion” for shots to hit a school building but that even one such incident “is still one too many.”
Chou says that most of the shots hitting schools happened when kids weren’t present and were believed to have been errant, rather than schools being targeted.
She says the school system is in regular communication with neighborhood residents and the Chicago Police Department about potential problems in the communities around schools and that, as a result, “We actually are able to prevent most of these types of situations.”
Lowell’s principal, Gladys Betty Rivera, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Nor did Alene Mason, the principal at Joplin Elementary School, 7931 S. Honore, where one of the more chilling incidents recorded by CPS occurred March 4, 2013. During school hours that day, two people “were shooting at each other on both sides of the street,” and Mason “immediately called for a lockdown of the school and called the police,” according to the CPS records.
“The school remained in lockdown until 3:20 p.m., when police came inside the building and informed” the principal “the situation was under control. When the lockdown was called off . . . the 1st-grade teacher informed Ms. Mason that bullets came through her window, shattering the glass, and bullet casings were on the floor. All of her children were in the classroom on the carpet at the time of the shooting, farthest from the window.
“No one was hurt or injured. Police came inside to block off the room until their detectives arrived . . . students were relocated” to the school theater, and the principal met with her staff “to organize an exit strategy for dismissal.”
Crisis-intervention counselors were called in to the school the next day “to support the students and staff,” and the lead custodian was asked to have the window boarded up.
In another incident, on the morning of May 13, 2014, a parent at Drake Elementary School, 2710 S. Dearborn, alerted school officials “that the preschool room had a window that was shattered and had a hole in it.”
Staff members found “a bullet fragment on the floor,” records show, and another bullet hole was discovered in the window of a kindergarten classroom.
After police evidence technicians finished examining the shooting scene and taking photos, janitors cleaned up, the school engineer called “to have the damaged windows boarded up,” and two high-ranking police officials “came to Drake to make sure all is well with our school community,” the records show.
The school official who filled out the paperwork wrote, “I assured them our students and staff have settled down and everything is fine.”
On June 10, 2015, a bullet pierced a first-grade classroom window at Metcalfe Community Academy, an elementary school at 12339 S. Normal. According to CPS records, “The bullet was the result of a shooting that occurred the night before where a female was shot twice on the corner of 124th and Normal. The same day, police were notified from the school that there was a violent altercation taking place between several individuals. Gang slurs were exchanged and there was a physical confrontation.”
The following month, a custodian at Eberhart Elementary School, 3400 W. 65th Pl., reported finding one morning that “several windows were broken due to vandalism. The window in room 801 appears to have been broken from a soccer ball, the window in room 102 appears to have been broken from a pellet gun, and the windows in rooms 504 and 608 were shot out from a bullet.”
Gunshots have damaged schools twice this school year, according to the CPS records.
In one case, last August at DuBois Elementary School, 330 E. 133rd St., a teacher entered a “classroom and observed a bullet hole in a shattered window. This is the 2nd time a bullet has entered one of her classroom windows this year.”
Two weeks later at LaSalle II Magnet School, 1148 N. Honore, staffers discovered that a second-floor window had been shattered, and a security official “searched the room and found the bullet,” CPS records show. The police department “was notified and came to collect the bullet.”
The police department says it doesn’t maintain a list of schools hit by gunfire, but police records show 10 “shooting incidents” on CPS property since Jan. 1, 2015, with 12 shooting victims. The records don’t say how many were students and whether the shootings occurred at night or other times when school wasn’t in session.
Last year, a 7-year-old and a 13-year-old were shot at an outdoor picnic marking the end of the academic year at Warren Elementary School, 9239 S. Jeffery. They were described as unintended victims of a drive-by shooting.
Chou says such shootings are “very rare” and that CPS strives to provide a “balanced” environment with “nurturing” and “safety precautions” that don’t amount to a “fortress mentality” that might be detrimental to kids and learning.
OTHER SCHOOLS HIT BY GUNSHOTS
• ChiArts/The Chicago High School for the Arts, now located at 2714 W. Augusta but incident happened at previous location on South Side.
• Fort Dearborn Elementary School, 9025 S. Throop.
• Morrill Math & Science Specialty School, 6011 S. Rockwell.
• South Shore Fine Arts Academy, 1415 E. 70th.
• Wentworth Elementary School, 1340 W. 71st.