Community demands new schools in Chicago after beam falls | #students | #parents


Nelly Martinez said her son attended an overcrowded high school on the Southeast Side, where the moldy water fountains wouldn’t work. Almost 10 years later, her daughter is facing similar issues in the same school: unbearable heat, undrinkable water, leaking ceilings, poor air quality and exposure to asbestos.

And just last Tuesday after a severe thunderstorm, a beam in the high school’s dropped ceiling fell down, injuring a security guard and exposing live wires, according to the school’s teachers. A video of the collapse was shared on social media.

“I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m really mad. I’m mad that my daughter has to go to school next year and I have to worry about a beam falling on her head,” Martinez said at a news conference Tuesday, where educators, parents, students and alumni made impassioned pleas for Chicago Public Schools to rebuild George Washington High School for its 1,600 students.

A ceiling collapsed in 2020 during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, though no one was hurt then, according to the school’s security guard and coach, Arianna Farias.

For many community members, the latest collapse was the last straw.

“Schools are meant to be home — and I’m going to emphasize that — school is home, school is home to our children, and they’re spending eight hours a day for nine months,” said alum Oscar Sanchez . “What does it say when one of the only safe spaces for youth isn’t safe?”

The high school was built in 1957. Parents and teachers said they have found issues with its buildings for the last decade.

“Improving school facilities and addressing pressing issues in our buildings is a district priority,” according to a statement from CPS. “We are committed to working with the respective school communities to determine the best course of action to address issues and make repairs. The district strives to provide timely updates to our CPS families and keep them informed about all serious incidents.”

On Wednesday, CPS’ board is slated to vote on the budget for the coming year, including capital improvements.

Community members say that CPS has enough federal COVID-19 relief funding — the district is slated to receive $2.8 billion over five fiscal years — to invest in two new school buildings and athletic facilities for the high school, as well as George Washington Elementary School.

“What we observed on Tuesday was indicative of a system that doesn’t care for the community that goes to Washington High School,” said Brian Lampert, a science teacher at the school. “To observe the ceiling collapse on the second floor, and the danger presented both to staff and students, was important.”

But the risks don’t stop there. Lampert said the conditions on the first floor where he teaches are hot, humid and “dehumanizing.”

“You know, I can send out a student to the hallway to cool down, to grab a drink of water,” he said. “But they know it tastes a little funny.”

Trinity Colon, a recent graduate, said she didn’t drink from the water fountains when she was a student and that there was no central air conditioning for the hotter months.

“When will the city hear our voices? And why doesn’t the city care when students of Washington hurt?” she said she’d ask herself. “Why do they let Black and brown children continue to suffer in the Southeast Side with food deserts, air pollution and contaminated water? Why do they let you stay for seven hours in an outdated, poorly ventilated building?”

She added that while the high school is known for its “old, broken buildings” and lack of resources, it is also known for its celebration of diversity and for the activism and accomplishments of its students.

“I believe that Washington High School is a really great school with amazing students and staff and our facilities need to reflect that,” she said.

Donald Davis, a social science teacher at the school, noted that the boy’s soccer team — which has had success at the state level — has to travel three miles to practice and has to pay to reserve the soccer field at Calumet Park.

“We’re in a system of haves and have nots and we’re on the bad side of it,” Lampert said. “But I wish for my students to be in a place that’s well resourced, that cares for them where they can flourish and they don’t have to fight on the daily just to exist and just to feel comfort.”

Marcelina Pedraza, whose child is one of 650 students who attend the elementary school, also pointed out issues with the elementary school premises, such as windows that don’t work, small hallways and a lack of learning and meeting spaces.

Pedraza added that new buildings for the high school and the elementary school could be an opportunity to help combat pollution in a community that is already trying to fight it.

“That would make the most sense — if we are demanding these new buildings — for them to be environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, new green schools,” Pedraza said.





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