OLD TOWN — A series of public meetings to discuss lead in the city's public schools went off without a hitch Tuesday, but that's because virtually no parents or citizens showed.
At the same time that CPS announced a 23rd school had tested positive for lead in at least one water source last week, school district leaders also announced a series of public meetings for parents and communities to learn more. The district has since confirmed that 26 schools have shown signs of lead.
Two of the first three community meetings this week were scarcely attended. A meeting at Michelle Clark High School, 5101 W. Harrison St., Tuesday afternoon saw one parent attend.
Another meeting held Tuesday at Walter Payton College Prep, 1034 N. Wells St., had no more than four members of the public attend. And of those that attended, none were parents.
"There's probably more CPS [workers] here," said Joann Cairo, a substitute teacher for CPS.
Tuesday's meetings were the second and third of seven planned meetings on the topic.
The first meeting, held Monday at Mather High School in West Rogers Park, was attended by about 20 people, according to media reports from the night.
CPS Spokeswoman Emily Bittner said many families have gotten their information on the lead issue from their principals, who were instructed by the department to help foster dialogue on the issue.
"A lot of that has been going on," she said. "Obviously, we wanted to make our experts available to the public as well."
The meetings were held the same week school ended for students, when many students might have graduated out of the schools with lead issues.
Still, Cairo said that, through her experience with parents, many of them can be either too busy or too uninterested to attend such meetings, even if the meetings address health concerns.
"I don't think parents are aware of what's going on," said Cairo, who worked at Dyett High School as a special aid teacher before becoming a substitute. "They need to be more involved."
Had parents attended the meetings, they would have heard from Jason Kierna, CPS's chief of facilities, and Dr. Cort Loaf of the city's Department of Public Health.
Kierna talked about the ongoing lead testing, and said the district has placed a priority on testing schools built before 1986. The highest priority at schools built before 1986 that contain pre-kindergarten students, as younger kids are more at risk of lead than other children.
Of the 470 schools built before 1986, 324 have pre-kindergarten classrooms, Kierna said, and all of those 324 schools have been tested, he said.
Only about 4 percent of drinking-water fixtures have tested positive for dangerous levels of lead, CPS said. Those fixtures have been disabled and the district is working on a remediation plan, Kierna said.
Loaf said that, despite lead in some public schools, city kids are just as likely to be exposed to dangerous levels lead outside of school. He said the most common culprit of lead poisoning in kids is from lead-based paint, found in old homes, churches and household objects.
"The culprit is usually found in homes in the form of paint chips," Loaf said. "Even toys."
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said at Monday's public meeting that the district will spare no expense in resolving the issue.
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