Gale Elementary Report and FOIA Documents

The Chicago Light Brigade's report on conditions at Gale Elementary and associated FOIA documents.
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  Report on Lead Paint Exposure at Gale Math and Science Academy, 2009-2014 Released October 21st, 2014 Written by Chicago Light Brigade Chicago Light Brigade is a network of community organizers and radical activists who are committed to supporting Chicago’s grassroots struggles with creative tactics, skill sharing, and mutual aid. This year, we are particularly focused on the defense of public education and the deincarceration of our youth. If you would like to stand with us, collaborate on an upcoming project, or have questions about our work please contact us at Executive Summary: Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administrators, over a period of at least five years, knowingly exposed up to two thousand, mostly low income Rogers Park children and others to significant amounts of peeling lead based paint (LBP) and lead based paint dust (LBPD) at Gale Math and Science Academy (GMSA). CPS administrators withheld information from GMSA administrators and parents about the hazards at their school, and refused to comply with Freedom of Information Requests filed by CLB activists, obstruction that required the intervention by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office to resolve. The Chicago Department of Public Health, local Alderman Joseph A Moore (49), and CPS administrators actively obscured information about LBP and LBPD at GMSA. CLB believes these obfuscations were intended to curtail community awareness of the extent of the problems at Gale, and contributed to preventing parents and guardians from learning about environmental safety hazards and health risks at their children’s school.  According to internal CPS documents acquired by CLB, testing for lead at GMSA was first performed in 2009. Despite results showing hazards in public areas used by all students, no action was taken by CPS to abate the LBP hazards. Additionally, parents were not informed of the health risks associated with exposure to lead based paint. In August 2013 a second round of tests revealed LBP hazards at fifteen locations in the school, and nine out of ten tested classrooms. Again, no action was taken, parents were not informed, and students and staff continued to be exposed every day they were in the building. Also exposed were groups that rented space in the facility for community functions. Moreover, CLB and Chicago Cares volunteers who were not informed of the LBP hazards, painted walls in the school as part of a community service project, without the benefit of personal protective equipment required for anyone mitigating LBP. Several of these groups also included young children. Following years of repeated requests for remediation by GMSA administrators, Chicago Light Brigade began a campaign to force CPS to remediate lead hazards and make other repairs to the school, including faulty fire alarms and leaking roofs. At that time it wasn’t known how extensive the LBP issues were, only that they existed in two locations and that any LBP is extremely hazardous, especially to young children.  While Ald. Joe Moore denied knowledge of the issue, his chief of staff and other of his agents attended GMSA Local School Council meetings where the issues were discussed in the presence of and with community members.  After attention was drawn to these conditions, a new round of testing was secretly performed by CPS which proved widespread lead contamination throughout the facility. According to CPS documents, LBP was found in multiple classrooms, offices, and hallways as well as on entry doors, railings and post caps in the stairwells - surface areas which are touched by children’s hands everyday. Lead is an extraordinarily dangerous poison. Exposure even in small amounts, especially in developing young children, can cause irreversible brain damage, along with a host of other long term physical, behavioral, emotional and cognitive consequences. GMSA’s Pre-K children are considered especially vulnerable to these hazards. Because of CPS’ inaction and the subsequent cover up by CPS administrators, abetted by the behaviors of a local elected official and CDPH as detailed in this report, LBP hazards in this case were allowed to continue unabated for almost one thousand school days. A further consequence of deteriorating LBP is the presence of lead dust, which is spread by hand, breathed into lungs from air circulation, and transferred on clothes by children and adults to their homes. A 2012 Chicago Reader article sums up the acute nature of 1 this hazard: ”It doesn’t take much: a sugar packet’s worth of lead dust scattered over an area the size of a football field is enough to poison a child.” In light of these facts, it is likely that CPS management of lead across its entire system is deeply flawed, and CLB believes that all of the remedies recommended at the end of this report are appropriate and necessary. CLB further finds that CPS’ treatment of vulnerable schoolchildren in Rogers Park at GMSA has been utterly shameful, and calls upon every Chicagoan to demand safe, healthy and fully funded learning environments for all of our children, as well as full transparency about hazards in these environments. Gale Math and Science Academy (GMSA) GMSA is located in Chicago’s Rogers Park community, at 1631 W. Jonquil Terrace. GMSA serves as the K-8 Educational Home for neighborhood children south from the Evanston border to just north of Touhy  Avenue. GMSA also has a popular Pre K program. 2  State figures report that over 97% of Gale students come from low or very low income families, that more than 28% are learning English as a second language, and that almost 8% are homeless. Food insecurity is so common that every school day starts with breakfast for nearly all the students. The 2013 mobility rate was 36%. 3   1, retrieved 4 Oct 2014 2; retrieved 4 October 20 14 3 ; retrieved 4 October 2014  One feature of the GMSA population is the unusually high number of GMSA students who have a documented disability. More than 19% of the student population, at GMSA require special education services, and have an Individualized Learning Plan (IEP) in place. Learning disorders and developmental disabilities are known to be consequences of lead poisoning in children. GMSA has the highest number of children with disabilities of all Roger Park schools. 4  Homicides in Rogers Park have increased by 100% in 2014, and violent crime often comes close to 5 children throughout the community. One former GMSA student was recently killed across the street from the school. 6  Lead poisoning causes irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and 7 lower intelligence, it also impairs a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility. Lead poisoning has been associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ. These behavioral consequences of lead poisoning place exposed children at greater risk for violent behavior and some experts think childhood lead poisoning has fueled the school to prison pipeline. 8  While tasked with providing a healthy, safe, and productive education for hundreds of Rogers Park’s most marginalized students, GMSA staff often battle both local poverty and institutional redlining by CPS and local government officials. CPS has used declining enrollments to de fund arts and sports programs, and eliminated the school’s librarian and technology teachers. GMSA also educates medically complex students who reside in local assisted living facilities and are transported to the school on days when the heat or air conditioning is working properly. Gale teachers and other staff function as de facto advocates for these students when they observe health issues during school, and have intervened in cases of extreme medical neglect by outside institutions. 9  The teaching staff, Principal, and Local School Council at GMSA are deeply committed to the school’s students, and most can powerfully explain the vast complexities of educating diverse learners in an underfunded environment. 4,150162990252203,150162990252889,150162990252930&source=EnvironmentSnapshot&sourceID=150162990252212 retrieved 10 October 2014 5,0,3004314.htmlpage retrieved 15 October 2014 6 _1_slain-boy-apartment-building-gale-math retrieved 10 October 2014 7 retrieved 10 October 2014 8 retrieved 10 October 2014 9  retrieved 15 October 2015   Despite the above factors, recent CPS data shows that GMSA led its network of twenty- eight schools in growth in math and reading, according to the latest test results. While continued improvement is needed, 10 grade level math and reading scores both increased by over 13% last year. Given the numerous challenges GMSA has faced, this is an astounding achievement for staff and students. Enrollment: Due to CPS’ new Student Based Budgeting (SBB) funding model, enrollment levels now determine the 11 amount of funding each school receives. SBB makes even small changes to the local education environment impactful across the entire community education spectrum, and is considered controversial because of its potential to undermine basic needs at some schools. SBB is so controversial that CPS officials have suspended implementation of 2014/2015 SBB funding cuts, while notifying LSCs to plan to integrate the aggregated amount of those cutbacks in next year. 12  GMSA enrollment has declined for several reasons, most notably gentrification, charter schools, CPS-driven instability, and the physical condition of the school itself. It is difficult to precisely quantify how much change in enrollments is due to any single cause. The two charter schools in Rogers Park include Concept and UNO. While both Concept and UNO are 1314 under federal investigation (Concept by the FBI and UNO by the IRS and SEC) and UNO has announced it will no longer manage its own schools after this year, it is unclear how these developments will impact 15 future enrollments at GMSA. Aggressive marketing by both school corporations, combined with enthusiastic support for them by local elected officials appear to influence some parent’s decisions. Because of SBB, the cumulative effect of expanding the charter footprint in Rogers Park has been to reduce funding to neighborhood schools such as GMSA, a trend that is likely to continue. 10  CPS Spring 2014 NWEA test results report. 11 retrieved 10 October 2014 12 retrieved 10 October 2014 13 retrieved 10 October 2014 14 retrieved 10 October 2014 15 retrieved 10 October 2014
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