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 [ ] Grade classroom in Room number [____] at [____________________] located at [_________________ The classroom in question had over [ ] persons in it on [____________] and the room is only big enough to have no more than [____________] 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.”
 Child’s Grade level
 Child’s Room number
 School Name
 School Address
 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.
 Date that you observed the classroom or date where school is in session.
 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!
I hope you find this useful. Thanks for reading!