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After Teachers Die of Cancer, Parents Want Little Village School Cleaned Up

By Josh McGhee | October 27, 2014 8:25am
 Some parents at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy are wondering if the deaths of two teachers from cancer recently are related to asbestos found at the school.
Some parents at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy are wondering if the deaths of two teachers from cancer recently are related to asbestos found at the school.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

LITTLE VILLAGE — The deaths of two teachers at a Little Village school from cancer has some parents complaining about asbestos in the building and worried that it contributed to their deaths.

And teachers as well as parents at the school are complaining about chipped paint, leaky ceilings, strange aromas and cockroaches in classrooms.

"The school has not been well maintained, so the paint, the walls and the drywall are falling apart. The paint is chipping off, when it rains some of the rooms get watered on, and the problem is they just half fix it. They'll fix it but they won't fix it all the way," said Alexandra Villasenor, 30, who has two kids at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, 2850 W. 24th Blvd.

One of the teachers who died of cancer was Margaret Williams. She died Oct. 8.

CPS officials said inspectors last week found that asbestos levels in parts of the school where children are present were "in good condition overall."

But inspectors discovered exposed asbestos materials in other parts of the school.

"CPS’ facilities team is working on a plan to remediate the issue," CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.

"Chicago Public Schools’ top priority is the safety and well-being of its students, teachers and staff. Our facilities team routinely monitors each of our buildings for any unsafe conditions, which includes inspection for anything which could pose a health threat.  We do not believe that the conditions at Saucedo present a health hazard to any students, staff or visitors of the school," Huffman said.

Villasenor, though, maintained the school poses a risk to students' health.

"With the children being in school all day for eight or nine hours, they're breathing all this. Mold, asbestos ... and it's just not healthy for them, especially the kids that have asthma or problems breathing," said Villasenor.

While Villasenor wasn't sure if mold or even asbestos was the cause of the teachers' deaths, she echoed the concern of multiple parents that it could've been a factor, especially since they were employed at the school for multiple years.

"That's what's raising the concern. Not that they died because of it, but that this had something to do with it. That's just the question," she said.

Built in 1912, Saucedo's age, combined with changes to the CPS  janitorial staff, could be a factor in the mess, said John Kugler, a field representative for the Chicago Teachers Union.

Kugler received a list of 22 complaints, ranging from issues about the school's cleanliness to concerns about cancer. He brought the concerns to the Board of Education last week.

Angelica Gamino also has two kids at the school and said aside from a leaky roof the school is in good condition, though she she still had concerns.

"A lot of parents became concerned after the passing of our two teachers. Other parents said they just wanted to make sure" conditions in the school were not a factor in the teacher's deaths, she said.

Gamino and other parents got some of the answers they were looking for at a community forum Thursday focusing on safety around the school. During the meeting, parents were told the school had conducted an asbestos test through a private investigator and that the school had passed, though the full results would not be disclosed to the parents until a later date.

Saucedo Principal Isamar Colon referred all questions to CPS. A spokeswoman for Ald. George Cardenas, whose 12th Ward includes the school, said the alderman's office was unaware of complaints.

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