CHICAGO — On her very first day of Kindergarten at Stone Elementary in West Ridge, Cassandra Kaczocha’s daughter came home with a gash on her leg.
The culprit? A sharp piece of metal sticking out of old equipment on the school’s deteriorating playground.
“My daughter is a pretty rambunctious kid, so we were like, ‘It’s par for the course,’ but then she showed us the piece of playground. … This could be happening to any kid,” Kaczocha said.
For reasons not related to the injury, Kaczocha ended up moving her daughter and son to their neighborhood elementary school, Boone. There, she discovered another neglected, dangerous playground.
The 38-year-old quickly realized the playground problem runs deep in Chicago. Through conversations with other parents, she learned there are dozens of playgrounds across the CPS system that are falling apart and endangering children. Like the dangerous playground in Hermosa, which was replaced Saturday after years of lobbying and fundraising by parents.
To find other parents dealing with the busted playground situation, Kaczocha started the Twitter hashtag #CPSPlaygroundSoBroke to document playground neglect across the city. Already parents have shared photos of deteriorating playgrounds under the hashtag.
The goal of the campaign, she said, is to build a comprehensive database of issues and then use it to convince the district to allocate more resources toward the problem.
“My hope is to leverage the [mayoral] campaign season by talking to the other mayoral candidates about what’s going on,” said Kaczocha, who works as a project manager.
Kaczocha said she’s been trying for quite some time to fix the playgrounds at both Boone and Stone, but it hasn’t been easy. She applied for grants, but came up empty. Then she sought answers from district officials at a town hall meeting — that didn’t go well either, she said.
A CPS spokesperson couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
With the hashtag, Kaczocha said she wants to connect with parents all over the city.
“If we know [playground neglect] is happening on the North Side, what’s happening on the South and West sides?” she said.
Chicago’s public schools need $3 billion in repairs, but the district is spending most of its money on new construction, according to a WBEZ report.
According to WBEZ, about 60 percent of the district’s $3.4 billion facility budget has gone toward new buildings since 2011, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected.
“CPS has told us outright that they’re not focused on [playground neglect] — it’s not one of their priorities,” Kaczocha said. “[I] decided to start a hashtag so we can document what exactly is happening.”