For Cripes Sake! Stop Illegal Overcrowding of CPS Classrooms and Follow the City of Chicago Municipal Code.

Class Size Matters

With the imminent start of the School Year and class rosters being finalized as we speak, I want to talk about class size and the City of Chicago Municipal Code. Small class size has been proven to significantly to improve student outcomes, especially for low-income and minority students. Yet, in CPS we regularly see class sizes of 30+ students, numbers that can be particularly devastating for younger learners. Education Researcher William J. Mathis from the University of Colorado and the National Education Policy Center published Researched Based Options for Education Policy Making, where he gave the following recommendations:

“• Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy. All else being equal, lowering class sizes will improve student outcomes.

• The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children. Conversely, increases in class size are likely to be especially harmful to these populations — who are already more likely to be subjected to large classes.

• While lowering class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove the more cost-effective policy overall particularly for disadvantaged students. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will likely result in additional substantial social and educational costs in the future.

• Generally, class sizes of between 15 and 18 are recommended but variations are indicated. For example, band and physical education may require large classes while special education and some laboratory classes may require less.”

Mathis, W. J. (2016, June). Research-Based Options For Education Policymaking. Retrieved from https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Mathis RBOPM-9 Class Size.pdf

The Municipal Code was Revamped after the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire to Keep Students Safe in Times of Need for Emergency Egress.

The point of small class size is so kids can quickly and safely leave a classroom, traverse the hallways and exit the building in times of emergency, such as fire, chemical spill, gas leak, etc. Many of these fire codes pertaining to schools were written in the aftermath of the tragic Our Lady of the Angel’s school fire that killed 87 children and 3 Catholic nuns that occurred on December 1, 1958, right here in Chicago. The Municipal Code was written with student safety in mind, yet CPS blatantly ignores the City Fire Codes (and CFD and the Mayor’s Office allows it) as it shoves more and more students into classrooms designed for a predetermined and limited amount of people based on classroom size. Overcrowding of any school is considered dangerous and hazardous to life safety and, coincidentally, an overcrowded classroom is not conducive to learning.

As Parents and Community Members, We Can Help Hold CPS, The Chicago Fire Department and The City of Chicago Accountable for Following the City Fire Codes

Below is a step by step process that anyone can use to alert the Chicago Fire Department about dangerous and hazardous classroom overcrowding.

Step 1.  Know the Law!

Title 13-56 of the Municipal Code of Chicago (see attached info at the end of this post) governs the occupancy of all Type I and II schools in the City of Chicago.  Complaints for overcrowding must be filed with the Chicago Fire Department because the CFD is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (“AHJ”).  If you witness overcrowding or what appears to be overcrowding in a classroom or you have documented proof of overcrowding in a classroom pleases take action by reporting it to the Chicago Fire Department via 311.

Step 2.  Call 311.

After wading through numerous prompts to direct your complaint to a department or agency that can’t legally address complaints for overcrowding you will be greeted by a 311 data entry specialist.  The data entry specialist will say their name which may be inaudible when first spoken.  Kindly ask them to repeat their name and provide the spelling of their name before going further.  Write down the name they give you and repeat the spelling of their name to verify you have the correct spelling of their name.  It’s important to establish this information up front and it will be clear later in this process why you will need their last name.

Step 3.  Provide a description of your complaint.

I’m providing a sample complaint that worked for me so you can model a successful overcrowding complaint here:

“Hello, I’m calling to file a complaint of overcrowding pursuant to Title 13-56 of the Municipal Code of Chicago for the overcrowding of my child’s [         [1]] Grade classroom in Room number [____[2]] at [____________________[3]] located at [_________________[4]  The classroom in question had over [      [5]] persons in it on [____________[6]] and the room is only big enough to have no more than [____________[7]] persons in it.  Please route my complaint to the Bureau of Fire Prevention in the Chicago Fire Department.  They need to send a fire inspector to determine if this classroom is in fact overcrowded.”

[1] Child’s Grade level

[2] Child’s Room number

[3] School Name

[4] School Address

[5] Total number of people estimated to be in a given classroom during the school day.  You can determine an estimate or approximation for the total number of people in a classroom in a number of ways: (1) at open house, note the number of chairs in the classroom and the square footage of the of the classroom; (2) ask school staff for the total number of students in your child’s individual classroom and the number of aides, as well as the square footage of the classroom. 

[6] Date that you observed the classroom or date where school is in session.

[7]  The number of people allowed in the classroom at any given time, per the Municipal Code.  How to calculate that number:  Note classroom length and width in linear feet.  (e.g., Classroom is 20 feet in length and 30 feet in width – 20 x 30 = 600 square feet, divided by 20 square feet, which the number of square feet per person set out in the Municipal Code – 600 ÷ 20 = 30 total people allowed in 20 x 30 classroom. 

Step 3a. Request that the 311 call taker read the documented text of your complaint back to you so you are clear that it says what you said, after you complete the process of communicating your complaint verbally to the 311 operator.

Step 3b. If the 311 call taker replies saying she/he will have to route this complaint back to CPS or an organization, agency or department other than the Chicago Fire Department please inform the call taker that the Chicago Fire Department is the Authority Having Jurisdiction regarding illegal overcrowding of Type I and Type II schools and that if she/he does not route the complaint to the fire department you will need to speak to their supervisor (on the day I phoned in this very complaint the call taker refused to route my complaint to the Fire Department).  I informed the call that the Bureau of Fire Prevention in the Chicago Fire Department receives referrals for overcrowding for schools, nightclubs exhibitions and places of public assembly.  The situation at my child’s school is dangerous and hazardous, should there be a need for emergency evacuation of the classroom. 

Step 4.  Don’t Take No for an Answer

If the 311 call-taker refuses to route your call to the Chicago Fire Department, you’ll need to document the time of your call and ask for a SR# (Service Request number).  You will need this number so you can bring it directly to the Chicago Fire Department, Bureau of Fire Prevention for additional follow-up.  My best guess is that the Fire Prevention Bureau will have to request the 311 complaint be routed directly to them so it can get closed out by the appropriate governmental agency. 

Step 5.  Wait 3 to 7 days and call back to 311 with your SR#

Call back to 311 and request the disposition of your complaint and say something like:

“Hello, I’m calling to follow-up on a complaint I made recently for overcrowding in a school.  My SR# is 16-01234. Can you please look it up and provide me with the disposition of the complaint?”

The 311 operator may only be able to share limited information regarding the complaint but at the very least they should be able to tell you whether or not the agency or department they routed the complaint to closed out the complaint.

Step 6.  Check back with the school to determine if the classroom was inspected for overcrowding.

Call the school principal and ask if the Fire Department reported to the school to investigate a complaint for overcrowding in the classroom that you complained about.  Give the particulars of the complaint to the principal to include the SR#.  If the principal tells you that the inspector was here but didn’t say one way or the other if the complaint was valid or not valid (founded or unfounded) you will then have to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the city via their website.

Step 7.  File a FOIA with the Fire Department

Go online to www.CityofChicago.org to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to follow up on your initial complaint.  Include the SR# and request any and all documentation generated by the Chicago Fire Department from the Office of the Fire Commissioner as well as the Bureau of Fire Prevention.  Request the Fire Inspectors Name and Badge number as well as any written correspondence sent to the inspector regarding this complaint (include SR#).  Request the Notice of Violation (“NOV”) if issued to the Responsible Party for the Chicago Public Schools for any and all violations written while on inspection at the (insert name of school here).

If it is determined, based on the information you receive from your FOIA that your complaint for overcrowding a school classroom is valid and you do not see a Notice of Violation written by the Fire Department to the Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson or other Responsible Party, please post your information online for all to see. Don’t stand-by while the Fire Dept., CPS and the City ignore the laws designed to protect the life safety of your child. Do something about it! Take your complaint to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (Chicago Fire Dept.) to compel CPS to follow the Law!

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I hope you find this useful. Thanks for reading!

Get on the bus, CPS Special Ed!!!*

photo_00071

Note to self:  Don’t post an important, short informational video designed to help CPS kids with special needs keep busing service in their IEP’s on the day the glorious Cubs win the effin’ World Series. Repost said video on Sunday morning. 

CPS is ramping up their latest version of special education funding cuts in new and creative ways, such as revoking busing service for many students under their “new” busing policies that limit services that in the past had been provided to students with special needs as a matter of course because it is in Federal Law under IDEA!.  Here’s a quick video  with some tips to help you protect busing service for your child with special needs.

*PET PEEVE ALERT!!!

CPS’s Special Education Department uses the moniker “ODLSS” which stands for Office of Diverse Learners Supports and Services, which is a HUGE pet peeve of mine.  ALL learners are diverse, but not NOT ALL learners have a disability that impacts their learning to the point that they qualify for special education services under IDEA.  The terms “Special Needs” and “Special Education” are in the Federal law that provides protections for students who have special needs.  “Diverse Learners” is a fluffy, vague and deliberate marketing ploy to undermine the legality, weight and responsibility surrounding the challenges of educating students who have HUGE obstacles to overcome.  Words matter.  Special Education is Special Education.

I am now going to stable my high horse for the evening.  His name is Jake.

Go Cubs!

The Elephant in the Illegally Overcrowded CPS Classroom

fire-alarm-pull-box-cartoon-2Not a great plan…

Overcrowding is on my mind due to the proposed plan to close Kellogg Elementary (a wonderful, Level 1 neighborhood elementary school with 83.5% African-American enrollment) and send those students to nearby Sutherland.  Per CPS’s numbers, this plan would immediately bring Sutherland to 136% “utilization capacity,” however, according the Municipal Code of the City of Chicago, occupying a Type IA Elementary School beyond 100% capacity constitutes overcrowding, and in this case, overcrowding by 36%.

Class size is a “classroom size” issue…

CPS regularly ignores the City of Chicago’s Fire Code which, out of concern for the life safety of students, teachers and staff, purposefully limits the usable classroom space to 20 square feet per person in a typical “corridor-type” school classroom.  The 20 square feet per person calculation includes individual persons, including students (no matter how small), teachers (no matter how awesome), push-in special education teachers (no matter how phenomenal), and paraprofessionals (no matter how many or how wonderful).  For example, if a classroom is 27’ x 20’, the maximum number of persons allowed in that classroom at any time is NO MORE THAN  27 TOTAL PERSONS! 

Code enforcement to address overcrowding of classrooms in the City of Chicago is the responsibility of the Fire Commissioner’s Office.  Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago has a Bureau of Fire Prevention with Inspectors who specialize in school inspections.  It is their job to inspect public schools for all manner of fire code violations, least of which is overcrowding, because overcrowding of any school is considered dangerous and hazardous to life safety.  Coincidentally, an overcrowded classroom is not conducive to learning, but I digress…  Many of these fire codes pertaining to schools were written in the aftermath of the tragic Our Lady of the Angel’s School fire that killed 87 children and 3 Catholic nuns that occurred on December 1, 1958, right here in Chicago.

Is your child’s classroom dangerous and hazardous?  Find out…

Let me walk you through how you can effectively determine if your child’s classroom is in compliance with the Municipal Code of Chicago with respect to classroom size.  E-mail your school’s Principal and ask them to determine the square footage of each and every classroom your child may utilize throughout the day and compare it to the attendance record or number of chairs in each classrooms and count the maximum number of persons (not just students) who occupy that space at any given time.  Ask the Principal to divide each classroom’s total square footage by 20.  If there are more chairs or more people than this calculation allows, your child’s classroom is overcrowded.  Overcrowding is not an average calculation.  A classroom in a school is either overcrowded or in compliance with Title 13-56 of the Municipal Code of Chicago regarding “occupancy content determination.”

municipal-code-re-school-overcrowding

What do you want to bet?

Parental push-back of this kind could go one of two ways: (1) Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago could take a stand for the safety of school children and teachers and require that CPS comply with the Municipal Code of Chicago as it pertains to overcrowding in Title 13-56-310; or (2) CPS will continue to flout the Municipal Code and the Mayor and his cronies on the City Council will push through a change that weakens this code to the detriment of the safety and well-being of our children in Chicago Public Schools.

Meanwhile, back in the 19th Ward…

Alderman O’Shea has asked for ideas and solutions to the overcrowding problem at Mt. Greenwood and the structural needs at Esmond.  His plan would close Kellogg and send those students to Sutherland, move Keller Regional Gifted Center to the Kellogg building and give Mt. Greenwood Elementary the Keller building.  It seems to me that overcrowding Sutherland to alleviate overcrowding at Mt. Greenwood just perpetuates the overcrowding problem in the 19th Ward.   We need more classroom space.  For real.

A solution that works for everyone…

Here’s a possible solution.  While I understand that the $20M Junior High Annex at CHSAS is no longer on the table and that investment from CPS must be worked out, CPS could build a classroom-heavy addition at Cassell and move Mt. Greenwood’s boundaries to alleviate Mt. Greenwood’s overcrowding.  At the same time, CPS can step up and also invest in updating and repairing the school of our neighbors at Esmond.  Overcrowding would be alleviated, children in special education cluster programs would not get pushed out of Mt. Greenwood and Cassell, Sutherland and Kellogg students who need instructional placement would get the classroom space they need and our neighbors at Esmond would get the long-overdue investment they deserve.

For-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy, kids with special needs need room for dedicated, school-specific, K through 8  instructional classrooms in their neighborhood home schools!

The proposed closure of Kellogg and the planned absorption of Kellogg students by Sutherland shuts down opportunity for students who may need instructional placement in their neighborhood home schools at both Kellogg and Sutherland (which requires, at minimum, 2 to 3 dedicated special education classrooms per school).  Neighborhood schools need actual, protected, special-education classroom space that lies outside of CPS’s ludicrous and illegal utilization formula.  We cannot  continue to allow CPS to propagate the lie that all square footage is created equal because it discriminatorily refuses to include our neediest, most vulnerable children in projections and optimization numbers.  We need a solution that works for ALL of the kids in the 19th Ward.

Forrest, scofflaw much?

And we need the Chicago Public School system to follow the Municipal Code.

 

Hungering for Justice in Rahm Emanuel’s Racist Chicago

Some FB friends of mine from across the City started discussing how those of us who support the 15 Dyett Hunger Strikers in their effort to open Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School can help increase awareness of and help to grow the momentum for the Fight for Dyett.  This is my attempt to shine a light on Mayor Emanuel and CPS’ shell game that further separates the diverse and vibrant working-class communities in our City: 

Bringing Truth to The Mayor’s Mendacity

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS’s Spinmeisters are working fast and furiously to get those Dyett Hunger Strikers and everyone who supports them to just shut up and go away.  The real reason they have chosen to deny Dyett’s proposal is campaign-donor driven and all about the money.  CPS does not want a strong neighborhood school to impact the marketing opportunities of the private Charter Schools that have popped up like weeds in poor black and brown neighborhoods.  In addition, it was a HUGE embarrassment to the Mayor to have two of his budget town hall meetings shut down by Dyett protesters and CPS made a hastily planned announcement to deny the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School’s Proposal for the future of Dyett High School and threw together some half-@$$%& self-proclaimed “compromise” so that Mayor Emanuel would not have to suffer the indignity of a third night of his town-hall meeting being shut down.  The announcement was made with approximately 15 minutes notice to the Dyett Hunger Strikers, who were barred from even attending the event.  Mayor Emanuel and Forrest Claypool stood with a phalanx of black “leaders” who have a history of selling out the very people they purport to lead, including a minister who paid protesters to speak in favor of closing Dyett High School.  (Excuse me, but just the thought of the cynical nature of this move on the part of Mayor Emanuel, makes me feel the need to shower to get the grossness off me.)

The Hunger Strikers are in their 29th Day of valiantly protesting CPS’ denial of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

Racism, Classism and The Have and Have Nots Systems
are Alive and Well in Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago

I could write a fictional account of the story of brave and noble parents and community hunger strikers facing off against a power-hungry and greedy egomanic mayor.  I could tell this story against the backdrop of a wealthy, predominantly white, trendy neighborhood versus an economically struggling, but up and coming and culturally vibrant black neighborhood.  I would then probably be told by my editor that the story line was heavy-handed and unrealistic…but this is happening right now in Chicago!  

Last week, there was a ribbon cutting for a $21 Million dollar addition to Lincoln Elementary School in Lincoln Park, at which Dyett Hunger Strikers called out Mayor Emanuel on the racial and economic inequity of his education policies.  In predominantly white and affluent Lincoln Park, Lincoln Elementary received a $21 Million dollar addition even though many Lincoln Parkers said they didn’t want the addition because: (1) it took away what little green space was near the existing school; (2) it would lead to more traffic headaches in already-congested Lincoln Park; (3) there was and are plenty of empty seats at nearby Manierre Elementary just south of North Avenue that could serve students on the south side of the current Lincoln Park Elementary boundaries and that Manierre is actually closer to those families living on the south side of the Lincoln Elementary boundaries; and (4) it was unjust to treat the people in this affluent, predominantly white neighborhood differently than the people in poor black and brown neighborhoods, many of whose children have seen their neighborhood schools shuttered and have been forced to travel much further distances for what is not always a better-performing school.

The two maps below show the boundaries of Lincoln Elementary and Manierre Elementary.  Mayor Emanuel is so desperate to hold sway with his wealthier, predominantly white constituents, that he panders to them by giving them an addition that many, many said they did not want.  It is significant that the racial makeup of Manierre is 94% Black and 0.3% white, while Lincoln Elementary is 11% Black and 64% White.

Map of Lincoln Elementary Boundaries from CPS website

Map of Lincoln Elementary Attendance Boundaries from CPS website.

fullscreen Manierre

Map of Manierre Elementary Attendance Boundaries from CPS website.

If Your Children Attend a Neighborhood School in Chicago,
Dyett Is About You

There is an egregious, racist and classist double standard in Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago.  Some people of privilege willingly ignore the injustice, some think the Dyett struggle doesn’t apply to them and some are just unaware of the herculean effort put forth by so many individuals to bring the vision of promise of a bright future, economic power and justice to the children in the Bronzeville Community.  The Dyett Hunger Strikers have jumped through every hoop Rahm Emanuel and his staff have put in their way and are desperately, righteously fighting for the right of people of color to have a meaningful voice in the education of their children.

The Proposal for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School is phenomenal, unique, relevant, sustainable and worthy and there is no GOOD reason why CPS should deny this Community this school of their own design.  Here is the link to the proposal.

http://catalystchicago.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2015/06/Coalition-proposal.pdf

The denial of this wonderful, educationally-sound, forward-thinking proposal for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology would never happen in a predominantly white, more affluent neighborhood.  Below is the list of the organizations who came together to form a Coalition to Revitalize Dyett along with their websites.  Had this proposal to reopen a shuttered, but needed, neighborhood high school been put forward in Lincoln Park, Sauganash or Edison Park, CPS would be jumping through hoops to bring about the phenomenal plan that these organizations have been working on for years.

Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University (http://annenberginstitute.org/)

Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council (http://www.bviconline.info/about-us.html)

Blacks in Green (http://blacksingreen.org/)

Chicago Botanic Garden (http://www.chicagobotanic.org)

Chicago Jazz Society http://www.chicagojazz.com)

Chicago Teacher’s Union (http://www.ctunet.com)

Du Sable Museum of African American History (http://www.dusablemuseum.org/)

Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (http://kocoonline.org)

Teachers for Social Justice (http://www.teachersforjustice.org/)

The Plant (http://www.plantchicago.com/)

University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education (http://education.uic.edu/)

On this, the 29th Day of the Hunger Strike of the Dyett 12 (now Dyett 15), the struggle for justice is very clear.  This action is not about one school on the north side of Hyde Park in Chicago.  It is the demand for respect, dignity and self-determination for a strong coalition of voices in a relatively poor, primarily black neighborhood in Chicago.  It is about the fight for equal educational opportunity for the poor and people of color nationwide.   It is also about the future of public education in our country, because, unless we citizens stand up against the kind of greedy, profit-driven policies that are at the heart of Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, the Privatizers are coming for your children’s neighborhood school in the not too distant future.  True justice will only be achieved for this group in Chicago after Rahm Emanuel and CPS heeds the righteous call of the Coalition for the Revitalization of Dyett and commit to open Bronzeville’s Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.  Mayor Emanuel’s failure to do so is racist, classist and a slap in the face to the dedicated brave men and women who have literally worked for YEARS and who are literally putting their health and lives on the line to bring attention to THEIR fight for THEIR Community and THEIR Vision for THEIR Open Enrollment Neighborhood High School.

We all want opportunity for our kids.  People of Good Will, please support the Brave Dyett Hunger Strikers as they fight for the future of their Children’s Education and their Community!

Please call Mayor Emanuel’s Office daily at 312.744.3300 until he commits to open the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s Proposal for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

Please also ask your other elected officials to support the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s Proposal for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School, by following this link:  http://fightfordyett.com/send-a-message-to-support-dyett/

I write this in support of the dedicated, honorable and brave 15 Dyett Hunger Strikers.  You have my everlasting respect and admiration.

Dr. Aisha Wade-Bey

Anna Jones

April Stogner

Cathy Dale

Irene Robinson

Jeanette Taylor-Ramann

Jitu Brown

Marc Kaplan

Dr. Monique Redeaux-Smith

Nelson Soza

Prudence Browne

Rev. Robert Jones

Asif Wilson

Brandon Johnson

Susan Hurley

#WeAreDyett

#FightForDyett

#WeSupportDyett15

Dyett Hunger Strikers