BEVERLY — Icy sidewalks proved to be a launching pad for parents upset about the janitorial services at Sutherland Elementary School.
Students returned from winter break last Monday to find most of the sidewalks hadn't been shoveled or were cleared with only narrow paths, said Colleen Loehr, of Beverly.
Loehr volunteers as a traffic moderator on Monday mornings and Tuesday afternoons at the school at 10015 S. Leavitt St. in Beverly. Her sons, Ryan, 9, and William, 7, are third- and first-graders.
She's stationed at the kiss-and-go drop-off at the northwest corner of the school on Monday mornings. As she was unloading children and their backpacks last week, kids were slipping and falling. Concerned parents stopped, causing frustration by hurried parents waiting behind.
"Three or four kids fell, and two more were crying," Loehr said.
The news sparked outrage, as parents vented not only about the unsafe sidewalks but also about the unkempt conditions at the school of 697 students in the heart of Beverly.
Parent volunteers reported seeing mice and rats in the cafeteria, trash strewed in the classrooms and horrendous smells as well as gross conditions in the bathrooms.
Melanie Howe said on Monday that she and her husband volunteered to teach a program to fifth-graders on Dec. 7. She arrived before the students had entered the building and was greeted with a filthy scene.
"Garbage cans were full. The floor was covered in spills wet and dry, large and small. Condiment packets were squashed open and dried to the floor. Half eaten food was also on the floor and tables," said Howe on Monday.
The outcry led to parents demanding action from Principal Eric Steinmiller, Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) and Aramark. Steinmiller would not comment and a call to Willie Porter, a district manager for Aramark, was not immediately returned Tuesday morning.
But on Monday, Michael Passman, a spokesman for Chicago Public Schools issued a written statement on the situation.
"CPS and Aramark have been working closely with Sutherland staff to ensure the school provides students with a safe and healthy learning environment. A thorough plan of action has been developed to address concerns, and the school will receive additional custodial support on weekends to improve school cleanliness," Passman said.
Still, O'Shea said this wasn't the first time he's heard about issues involving cleanliness at Sutherland. He met with Aramark officials along with parents and school administrators at the school on Nov. 2 to discuss the problem.
"Aramark had conceded that yes they'd had some issues," O'Shea said on Friday.
The company vowed to clean up its act, and O'Shea had assumed progress had been made until the icy sidewalks brought a fresh batch of issues to the forefront. As a result, he took to Facebook encouraging parents to attend Sutherland's Local School Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19.
"The LSC there is very dedicated," O'Shea said on Friday. "Aramark needs to do better."
Loehr plans to attend the meetings and is encouraging others to do so as well. She said the sidewalks weren't cleared by the end of the school day on Monday, but the paths were free of snow and ice on Tuesday and have been good since.
Still, she said conditions in the school are troubling, adding that her two sons refuse to put their food on the sticky lunch tables at school. Instead, they use their lunch boxes as placemats.
Brian Roache, of Beverly, has a kindergartner and third-grader at Sutherland. He frequently volunteers and said he, too, has seen mice in the school. He said some days are worse than others and doesn't blame the custodians for the situation.
"It's gotten significantly worse since Aramark has taken over," Roache said.
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