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Fire and safety becoming an issue at South Side schools... Who is responsible for fire and other safety risks for children/students in CPS?

Despite attempts by teachers and students to point out that a "new" school evacuation plan promoted by the school's principal would block the sidewalk in front of Taylor Elementary School when emergency vehicles arrive, the principal, who has a history of controversial decisions and ignoring common sense and collective wisdom of the staff, continues to insist that when the school is evacuated in a fire drill (or false alarm) that the students do not cross the street but remain on the sidewalk immediately outside the building. The photo above shows how close that sidewalk is to the building. At Taylor School, located on the far southeast side of Chicago at 9912 S. Avenue H, as I assume to be the case in many if not all schools, a “best system developed over time” has been in place for many years regarding evacuation. For years, the Board of Education provided principals and other school leaders with a handbook of what to do in various health and safety situations (from gun in the building to tornado) and insisted that principals train annually in the procedures outlined.

However, this evacuation system in place at Taylor School was officially changed in January 2018 in a way that places CPS employees and students at great risk.

On Tuesday, January 23, 2018 as a teacher at Douglas Taylor Elementary School, along with all faculty and staff, I received an email sent from Principal Dawn Hill informing faculty and staff that “the fire department and Safety and Security have provided recommendations for fire evacuation at Taylor…” The email continued with information on specific changes being made to the usual exit routes for evacuation. During the AM announcements, Assistant Principal Eduardo Yanez reiterated the content of the email over the intercom.

PAST PRACTICE

Without going into exact details, for fire drills (or other evacuation needs), past practice had everyone exiting via the nearest exit and heading away from the buildings. In most cases, this resulted in crossing one-way, residential streets. Note: Faculty and staff monitor all students crossing the streets for evacuation. Should this not be the practice for any building being evacuated, not only schools? Exit via the nearest exit and head away from the building? If so, then how can such no longer be the directive for the employees and students of Taylor Elementary School?

PROBLEM WITH NEW EVACUATION ORDER

Without going into exact details, the problem with the new evacuation plan is that instead of quickly moving away from the buildings, we are now being ordered (for all but the case of one door) to exit the buildings, and then turn right around and WALK BACK AND TOWARD THE FRONT OF AND/OR ALONG THE BUILDINGS on the school sides of the streets, and, after passing the buildings, eventually move further from the buildings.

Yes, if there is a fire or any other circumstance for which evacuation is called, employees and students of Taylor School have been directed to exit and then move back closer to the fire or any other circumstance happening in the building. In addition, the “new and improved” evacuation plan results in the following: Any fire trucks or other vehicles arriving at the curbs near the buildings will now likely encounter classrooms of students moving along the sidewalks exactly between said emergency vehicles and their occupants and the school buildings along the new evacuation routes. For evacuation, we are being directed to move ourselves en mass along the sidewalks, piled-up and bottle-necked as that will be, directly between emergency vehicles and the buildings, which will cause emergency personnel to have to go through and/or around us until we completely evacuate along the “new and improved” exit routes.

Upon hearing the plan over the intercom, I became aware that older students questioned the plan aloud, “They are telling us we are supposed to walk closer to a burning building??!” When I sent an email basically addressing these concerns, asking these exact questions along with asking for clarification regarding who exactly recommended this, I received a response from Principal Hill clarifying and repeating that the recommendations were made by “the fire department and Safety and Security.” If Principal Hill is to be believed, and school communities should be able to take their administrators at their word, these recommended evacuation route changes then are coming from “the fire department,” which one must assume means the Chicago Fire Department (CFD), and “Safety and Security,” referring to CPS’s own Department of Safety and Security.

CFD, to my knowledge, has been notified of these changes. If not, the notification can come from this report, that is, unless it is true that CFD really actually recommended these changes (as stated in the information emailed twice by the principal to the faculty and staff, and as reported to all, including the entire student body, over the intercom by the assistant principal), in which case CFD already knows about and approves of them.

Regarding CPS’s Department of Safety and Security, if the administration of Taylor School is to be taken at its word, those in positions to do so also approved of these evacuation changes, having recommended them, according to the same administrative emails and intercom announcement. Taking the principal and assistant principal at their word, that these changes come from “the fire department and Safety and Security” must be the accepted understanding, until and unless the school community of Taylor School officially hears otherwise. We await official word otherwise.

OTHER SAFETY RISK EXPERIENCED BY CHILDREN/STUDENTS AT TAYLOR SCHOOL
At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the administration of Taylor School posted printed sheets listing classrooms from PreKindergarten through intermediate grade levels on the outside front doors of the main school building, separate sheets per classroom. The sheets contained and thusly shared the following information with everyone/anyone outside of the school: Teachers’ names, those teachers’ students’ names, and the grade levels of the students (from which one can easily infer general age information).

As soon as I became aware of the postings, I immediately reported to the administration that the postings were a serious violation of CPS policy for student confidentiality as well as a serious safety and security concern. I informed that the posted sheets needed to be removed immediately because, among other reasons, pedophiles could view those sheets. Suffice it here to report that the local response I was ultimately given for my communication was that I was officially written up for unprofessional behavior. [That is a whole different and ongoing part of the “CPS experience,” which, for those of you who know how it works, you already know how that works.]

When I spoke briefly with Principal Dawn Hill and Assistant Principal Eduardo Yanez, separately and then together, they appeared to be focused completely on what they perceived as my “tone” as opposed to what I was communicating re the students’ names being posted on the school’s front doors and what that entailed. Upon escape from the administrative reprimands promised, I immediately went to my classroom and called CPS’s Safety and Security, and then emailed (studentsafety@cps.edu) a narrative and photos as instructed.

Regardless, the postings remained for the rest of that day, overnight, and were still posted when I left work the following day. When I tried to follow-up with CPS’s Safety and Security to gather further information, no matter what or how I asked about the legality or appropriateness of posting students’ names outside of a school, I received a repeated answer of being told to contact Policy and Procedures. The postings were in violation of CPS’s policy on Parent and Student Rights To Access To and Confidentiality of Student Records.

I was officially informed of this a short time later (and promptly after I requested information that time, although I await other information I have sought since then) from Brendan Perry, the Law Department’s Policy and Procedures contact within CPS. [Note: Posting of such information WITHIN the school buildings is allowable.]

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, posting employees’ names, and students’ names and grade levels which indicate ages, on a school’s front doors readily gives that information to anyone outside of the school, which includes: pedophiles, gangs, adults involved in divorce or custody disputes, members of families in crises of various sorts (including domestic abuse), government agencies such as ICE (in Chicago, a sanctuary city), and etc.

OTHER CONCERN WITH FIRE DRILLS, in cold weather (…might as well air this, too):

Another issue with fire drills, at least at Taylor School is that apparently there will no longer be any “wraps bell”. I am not aware that this is the case for other schools. For those who are not familiar, this is an actual bell or other kind of announcement that gives a heads-up for a fire or other evacuation drill that allows students and employees to gather a coat together shortly before said drills in cold weather. On the date of the above evacuation changes, along with the evacuation changes it was announced in the AM that there would be a practice fire drill that day (although this never materialized). Further clarification informed that students could not carry coats or jackets with them in anticipation of this drill.

Thusly, in departmental classrooms or for any students moving to and from specials classrooms (music, art, etc.), students would not likely then have ready access to their coats before going outdoors. The repeated administrative response is to state that during a real fire, our lives are more important than getting a coat. [Duh, we do not already know that?] An alternative viewpoint expressed – something as a matter of routine completely ignored and summarily dismissed at too many local and network levels within CPS as it is run at this point in time – is that when we are aware ahead of time and are “practicing” we should not send children or employees out into freezing weather without coats for drills. We do not have fake smoke machines to simulate a real fire during fire drills. We do not throw chairs around to simulate tornado debris for those drills. Why would we put students and employees at a serious health risk – the weather on the date in question had some accumulated SNOW OUTSIDE and THERE IS A SERIOUS FLU SEASON RIGHT NOW - for a drill? REPEATING QUESTIONS

For those who might not take the local school’s administration at its word – that it is “the fire department and Safety and Security” – exactly who is responsible for the changes to the evacuation plan for Taylor School? Has this been the case with other CPS schools? And then, who is responsible for those who are responsible for the safety and security of a school within CPS, and especially if and when such issues continue? ULTIMATE ANSWER: Rahm Emanuel, with his mayoral control of the schools and his unelected school board. So, I ask Mayor Emanuel: Should we follow these local administrative orders and put your elementary school children and employees at such risk? Do we go ahead and teach the students with practice how to evacuate a building in the absolute wrong way? Or do we at this point in time actually need to be insubordinate out in your schools in order to do right by the students and ourselves? We await answers.



Comments:

February 2, 2018 at 7:14 PM

By: Susan Zupan

Further information - CFD and email

Post forwarding this report to Substance, I was able to speak with two officials from the Chicago Fire Department (CFD).

I was informed by Chief Schrouder from Public Education that, yes, generally it is correct to evacuate away from any building. However, there could be circumstances which predicate evacuation plans (for schools or other buildings) that might be different, but it was not fair or prudent to comment on any particular circumstances because he did not know the who or why of the situation. He said we needed to find out who from CFD might have made any recommendations. He referred me to the School Section of the CFD.

I then spoke with Inspector Noble, from the School Section, who stated that there may have been a good reason for changes in the school's evacuation plan, but he also could not say anything with certainty because he did not know who, why or if anything was actually said by anyone from CFD in the situation. He said he would be in touch in the next week with the inspector for the area (of the school), Inspector Engineer Filas, to check on the situation.

I also add further information here that when I sought clarification from Principal Hill, part of the short response included that she would be "happy to explain the logic for these changes in person to avoid confusion." Because I was already concerned and confused, and her response was not as forthcoming as I had hoped, I chose to not pursue further information along that local administrative route, a one-on-one meeting over the situation also being something I was not comfortable with under these and other circumstances.

This may be just me, but I will simply feel much more reassured verifying with certainty that the school's evacuation changes came from the CFD. If so, then perhaps the logic of the changes can be shared with the entire faculty and staff, and possibly other "stakeholders" in the school community as well?

When something long-standing in any environment is changed out-of-the-blue and without prior heads-up, input or collaboration (if warranted), and particularly anything related to safety and security, even for the better as the case may be - CFD? - I would hope for a greater level of open communication on the situation, at least toward and with the professionals entrusted to deliver the students of Chicago safely out of schools via practice and/or an actual evacuation.

February 4, 2018 at 1:46 PM

By: Jo-Anne Cairo

Emergency Evacuations

After reading this story I looked at he CTU Handbook, 14-5,

the CTU explaination of an emergency Situation was a mirror image of CPS safety and security.

I was in a H. S. school and it was Friday afternoon in January, and the male student wanted to leave early, so in the boys bathroom were the boys would smoke regularly, when security occasionally would check the bathroom, to stash the evidence students would throw what they were smoking behind the upper part of the wall. Well on this day when the temperature was about 20 degrees give or take ,a smoke was still lite and a fire began. It was a real fire.

We had to evacuatethe building go to the Armory 2 blocks away from the building. Until the fire was put out.

In this case there was a real fire, and we were not allowed to get our coats and we had to get as far away from the school building for safety reasons

February 4, 2018 at 4:09 PM

By: Susan Zupan

Real thing v. practice drills

The issue/question is what conditions to put children/students into for a PRACTICE DRILL.

I experienced a real fire evacuation years ago in a different school. Different set of circumstances but with ICE-FREEZING-FREEZING WEATHER, so I know exactly what you are talking about, Jo-Anne.

For a real fire, you do not care about something like a coat because it is about immediately saving lives. Whether or not you are sick later from the cold, you are alive. You GET OUT AND AWAY FROM THE BUILDING and STAY OUT OF THE WAY OF THE EMERGENCY RESPONDERS.

But if it is COLD/FREEZING outside or even just cold (re that in-between weather that is still not healthy to be out in without a coat/jacket), should a fire practice drill place CPS students outside in the t-shirts so many have worn to school that day for any amount of time when that is not absolutely necessary?

If so, then why not take it further and have smoke-simulating machines fill the air for fire drills, so they know what that's actually going to be like, except they can still breathe with the fake smoke? Or why not use real smoke, then?

And let's have realistic but fake gunshots sounding in the halls for those drills? Let's shoot plastic nail guns into the air and make crashing noises with chairs and tables for tornado drills or even have realistic sound effects blasting over the intercoms for that?

How can it be justified to put school children at a serious HEALTH RISK for a drill of any kind? What about the kids with asthma, for whom cold is a trigger? Risk triggering that for a PRACTICE fire drill? And CPS would have us take kids outside right now in those t-shirts during this present flu season?

We're giving new meaning to "drill and kill" here.

February 5, 2018 at 1:16 PM

By: Jean Schwab

safety

This is wild! Students rushing to get coats, names of students and staff posted outside the building, exiting across the front of the building with fire engines possibly there. This is like some kind of comic page story!

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