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Parents, Teachers Say CPS Didn't Adequately Publicize Lead Meetings

By Joe Ward | June 24, 2016 7:22pm | Updated on June 28, 2016 10:43am
 Jason Kierna, chief of facilities for CPS, speaks to the one parent who attended a public meeting on lead in water held by CPS in Austin.
Jason Kierna, chief of facilities for CPS, speaks to the one parent who attended a public meeting on lead in water held by CPS in Austin.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

CHICAGO — A series of CPS meetings on lead in drinking water fell on deaf ears this week, but it's not because parents don't care: it's because CPS doesn't want them to care, parents said.

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 about the situation. The district has since confirmed that 30 schools have shown signs of lead.

Two meetings held Tuesday saw no more than 5 members of the public show up, including one meeting in Austin where one parent showed. That was after the first meeting in West Rogers Park Monday, where about 20 parents and community members showed up.

A number of parents said they weren't uninterested in attending the meetings, but that they were never notified of them in the first place.

Janet Meegan is on the Local School Council at Linne Elementary, 3221 N. Sacramento Ave., and said she took off the last week of school and spent much of the time volunteering at Linne.

Despite that, Meegan said she never heard a peep about the lead meetings and only learned of them after Tuesday's set of meetings, when DNAinfo reported on all the empty seats.

"It would have been impossible for me not to know [if CPS publicized the meetings]," Meegan said. "I can't tell if it's on purpose or if it's incompetence. Either one is bad."

Dave Stieber, a CPS teacher and parent, said he did not hear anything about the meetings and said many parents could not make the meetings, some of which were held at 4 p.m.

CPS announced the meetings in a press release that also declared a 23rd school had tested positive for lead. The meetings notices were published by DNAinfo as well as a number of other outlets in Chicago.

Still, parents say there was no district-wide effort made to inform them and teachers.

A CPS spokeswoman said principals were charged with leading the discussion on lead in schools, and that the public meetings were for parents to ask questions of the district's "experts."

Some principals did get the word out.

Carmin Ballou, a mother of two CPS students from Avondale, said her child's principal sent an email to parents about the meetings.

"I was aware they were happening, but I know a lot of other people were not," Ballou said.

Ballou said she made the conscious decision not to go, but it's not because lead in water isn't a serious issue. She said she's gone to a number of public meetings held by CPS, including ones on closing 50 neighborhood schools in 2013, and she said those meetings had no tangible impact.

"I'm one of many hundreds who came out and it seemed to make no difference," Ballou said.

CPS did not specify if a formal announcement on the meetings was made to parents or teachers. A spokeswoman did not immediately return requests for comment.

The meetings were held over the last week of school, when parents are scrambling to find supervision for children and when teachers see a rush of work before the summer break. Some parents objected to the timing and locations of the meetings.

"It's probably not the time we can persuade our kids to go back into school and sit in a dark auditorium," Ballou said.

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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