LINCOLN PARK — After a recent incident at Oscar Mayer Magnet School where a toddler fell from a second-story window, a Chicago Public Schools official said safety guards will be installed on windows at all schools that offer pre-kindergarten programs.
A spokesman for CPS said the policy will require window stops in all second-floor classrooms that are occupied by pre-K students. It also applies to first-floor classrooms if they don't already have window cages or screens. Since it is a new policy, he said it is unclear how many schools will be impacted. CPS will be evaluating schools in the coming weeks to determine which need the safety measure.
It came up at a packed Thursday evening Local School Council meeting held at the Lincoln Park school, 2250 N. Clifton Ave., where dozens of parents, teachers and other members of the school community showed an overwhelming amount of support for the two assistant teachers who were assigned to the toddler's classroom and were subsequently removed from the school after the incident. Many of them insisted it was an accident, but were also careful not to diminish the gravity of the situation.
The fall occurred around 2:15 p.m. Dec. 8. A 3-year-old boy was in the nap room when he fell from a second-story window, avoiding injury by landing in dirt from the school's chicken coop. The school offers an early childhood development program, which enrolls children ages 3 to 5. The nap room is where four different classrooms of pre-K students come together to sleep.
School Principal Katie Konieczny said the boy, who police said was in good condition after the incident, returned to school the next day — but she, like others at the meeting, acknowledged that the outcome was "very lucky."
Konieczny explained that two teacher assistants typically bring the children to the nap room, and then two other assistants come in and replace them. On this particular day, one boy did not come out of the classroom with the other children.
"The door was closed and the child felt [he] couldn't open the door, so he went to the window," she said.
Konieczny, who has been principal at the school for a decade, said that was the extent of what she could share, citing a pending CPS investigation.
She quickly apologized for sending a series of vague emails the day of incident, which sent parents into a "pandemonium," according to one parent, who declined to be named.
In one of Konieczny emails, she wrote, "Today at Oscar Mayer we had a serious incident that occurred this afternoon. We are working closely with Chicago Public Schools and the internal Mayer team to fully investigate this situation as student safety is of the utmost importance."
Konieczny said she made the quick decision to notify parents right away rather than waiting because she knew that some parents knew but others didn't. That put the CPS communications and legal teams in a "unique circumstance, where they were required to send something very prematurely," she said.
"When you reflect on this, you think to yourself: Do you want to take a hit for crappy communication or sending no communication at all?" she said. "I go back and forth on what I should've done."
Many of the parents at the meeting blamed CPS for poor communication — not Konieczny.
"I thought communication was horrific," said one parent. "I worry about what happens from here on out. You have a bunch of very involved parents, who give over $500,000 to the school to be more a part of it, and we have terrible answers from CPS. There's this issue of who's the constituency. Why can't we be spoken to as if we're the main constituency? I haven't heard one good answer from CPS."
In response, Ernesto Matias, who runs the CPS network that Oscar Mayer falls under, said: "I don't disagree with you."
Jadine Chou, the head of safety and security for CPS, said the building is up to code, but the district will be conducting a walk-through to make sure the school is safe. The district has already installed safety guards on windows at the school, and plans to roll out the policy city wide at all schools that offer pre-K programs, she said.
Konieczny said school has also made other changes like moving the nap room to the first floor and implementing a new pick-up routine, among other things.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to me ... ever," said an emotional Konieczny. "I don't know what to predict. I'm doing the best I can. If there have been missteps along the way, it has never been in an effort to confuse, scare or upset anyone.
"I just wanted to communicate that we were aware of the incident, we were moving forward and we were trying to create the idea that this is a safe place to bring your kids to school."
Many people at the meeting expressed concern over whether the teacher assistants would return, calling them "wonderful."
Matias assured parents that their requests will "make their way up the chain of command."
"I will take this to them. I've heard you loud and clear that they're good teachers. I totally understand that it was an accident. I've got it," he said.
Chou also made assurances, saying "Nobody wants to be punitive when it's not necessary."
Mark Sassower, president of the Local School Council, said the measured meeting was an example of how Oscar Mayer handles a crisis.
"We do it in a professional way," he said. "We come together and we confront one another, and we move forward together."
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