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!

NTA, Englewood and Montefiore: Rahm’s Racist, Ableist and Classist Agenda Plays Out in Chicago

Montefiore pic

Montefiore was a Chicago Public School that provided therapeutic special education services for students Grades 7 through 12 who had severe emotional disorders.

CPS “stealth” closed Montefiore, its only therapeutic day school, by simply not placing any new students there, transferring out existing students and staff and then eliminating a program that served 7th through 12th Grade students who had emotional disorders so severe that their behaviors had led to previous expulsions from other schools within CPS. These are the kinds of kids who now have NO options within CPS other than expensive private placement in a therapeutic day school — the procurement of which often requires hiring an attorney, which is commonly impossible for low-income families.  The kids that Montefiore served, one of whom was Laquan McDonald,  are Emanuel’s “throw-away” population — young people who have mental illness, little employment opportunity  and few coping skills and who, in the face of little or no appropriate intervention, become a statistic in Chicago’s shameful legacy of supporting a school-to-prison-pipeline.

The building that housed Montefiore is now going become a private Waldorf School with a tuition of around $13,000 per year.  I don’t begrudge the Waldorf School taking over the property, but I abhor that it represents the racist, ableist and classist priorities of Chicago’s Mayor, who continues to divest in programs and schools that support the neediest of Chicago’s children.  The neediest children I speak of include black and brown low-income students in Englewood — who learned yesterday that CPS plans to close four Englewood High Schools, recklessly displacing 400 students out of their neighborhood schools and disrupting the education and community belonging to these young people — all smack dab in the middle of their transition to adulthood.  The neediest children also include CPS students who have emotional disorders so severe that they cannot successfully navigate their neighborhood school.  The neediest children also include those children who have special needs who, under Emanuel’s tenure, are having to endure a system that has been rigged with a $14 Million accounting consultant-crafted special education procedure manual designed to cut costs and undermine special education services and IEP Team decisions.
We need to look no further than the Emanuel-driven CPS plan to close NTA to see who is important to Rahm — and it ain’t poor black people.  NTA is a Level 1+ (CPS’ Highest School Rating) elementary school, with a majority-black, low-income student population that has made phenomenal gains in student growth and achievement and uses a co-teaching model for full inclusion for students with special needs.   With engaged families and a focus on social justice and growing student leaders, NTA should be held up as a model for successful urban education.  Yet, in arrogant, short-sighted, pandering-to-the-majority-higher-income-white-people-Emanuel-fashion, CPS plans to close NTA in order to use the building to open a 1,000-seat neighborhood High School.  This is a horrible plan for many reasons, the least of which is that there are approximately 3,000 currently-empty high school seats within a 3 mile radius of the South Loop neighborhood.   See the NTA community’s plea to save NTA:  WeAreNTA: The Kids Aren’t Alright – How Chicago Public Schools’ Proposal for a New South Loop High School Hurts Our Children’s Classrooms and Wallets.
See why NTA should remain open.
Please call Rahm Emanuel’s office at 312-744-3300 and ask that he do the right thing and keep NTA Elementary School open.
Please e-mail the following and ask them to support successful urban education and keep NTA Elementary School open:
Forrest Claypool (feclaypool@cps.edu)
Dr. Janice K. Jackson (cedo-jackson@cps.edu)
Chicago Board of Education Members via Kathryn Ellis (kmellis@cps.edu)
Frank M. Clark, President, CPS Board of Education
Jaime Guzman, Vice President, CPS Board of Education
Mark F. Furlong, Member, CPS Board of Education
Dr. Mahalia Hines, Member, CPS Board of Education
Arnaldo Rivera, Member, CPS Board of Education
Gail D. Ward, Member CPS Board of Education
#WeAreNTA

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.