Students, families not told of CPS’ cleaning ‘blitz,’ disgusted at failures

Shakira Robinson reacts to CPS inspection reports on Jackie Robinson Elementary, whic her 6-year-old son Jaycen attends. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

While waiting for her kindergartner Monday afternoon, Shakira Robinson read solemnly through 20 pages about Robinson Elementary School’s sanitary conditions, stopping at the one for her son’s classroom.

The 6-year-old is allergic to dust mites and roaches, and has asthma, his mother said, and he was sick from October to January.

“I’m kind of disgusted, I don’t understand why there’s so much dust and dirt everywhere, especially around children,” she said. “I’m big on my son being able to breathe properly. Basically it’s saying everything in there is dirty.”

Students and families apparently hadn’t been told of Chicago Public Schools’ “blitz” inspections, quietly carried out in December through February at 125 schools, to check cleaning and other facilities conditions at schools where cleaning is overseen by the private company, Aramark. Ninety-one schools failed as the Chicago Sun-Times documented last week during spring break.

CPS hired Aramark in 2014 so schools would be cleaner with less hassle for principals and lower costs to the district that has since given Aramark more responsibility, saying it was happy with the company’s work. In January, CPS signed a contract giving Aramark a share of a $427 million deal to privatize all school facilities work, documents the school system refuses to release.

Lizzy Russell, a senior at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, reacts to CPS inspection reports of the school. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

But detailed reports from the inspections, conducted after a rodent infestation came to light at Mollison Elementary, show filthy food service equipment, smelly bathrooms that lacked hot water and soap, dirty and broken floor tiles and evidence of pests.

Just 34 of the 125 schools inspected passed, with the worst of the results in schools serving poor children of color. Inspectors tallied up violations as the city’s public health department would. The DuSable high school building, 4934 S. Wabash, had the highest potential fines overall at $37,250. Robinson, which only goes up to third grade, had the highest among elementary schools at $30,500.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appointed all the school board members who’ve approved the cleaning contracts, said he was “beyond outraged” about the condition of the schools. African-American aldermen have called for action.

Latoya Spencer and her 9-year-old daughter, Rakiyah Green, react to CPS inspection reports on Jackie Robinson Elementary, where Green is a third-grader. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

“The issues we identified through our recent facility inspections are completely unacceptable,” spokesman Michael Passman said.

“We believe the current service model at these schools, which separates custodial, engineering and pest management responsibilities, fostered the unacceptable conditions we observed earlier this year,” he said, adding that integrating those services should fix the problems. Schools already using that model were not yet inspected. And CPS did not share any results with families or local school councils.

Myshea Johnson, a senior at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, reacts to CPS inspection reports of the school. | Erin Brown/Sun-Times

Robinson and other families dove right into the detailed checklists, but 18-year-old Myshea Johnson declined to read any of the 12 pages of specifics on what inspectors found at the DuSable campus.

What surprised her wasn’t that her high school failed one of CPS’ “blitz” inspections but the fact that anyone had bothered to look at all.

“Recently I was in my art classroom and then I turned around and saw a rat running behind me,” she said. The custodians in the giant old building “do what they can … but they need more supplies.”

“We see dead roaches going into class all the time,” she said outside Bronzeville Scholastic Institute on Monday. “And classrooms, and hallways are just dirty. It’s nothing new.”

Then an administrator emerged and shooed reporters away from the public sidewalk outside as Robinson’s principal also did. Neither would comment on the findings from inside.

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