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CPS Kept Schools Open Without Power, Heat — And Some Parents Weren’t Happy

Hale Elementary, which serves 902 students, was still without power on Tuesday.

[FILE PHOTO] Howard Ludwig / DNAinfo
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CHICAGO — Students at 20 Chicago Public Schools were without electricity Monday following the severe snowstorm that knocked out power for about 34,000 people in the city — and some parents are peeved they weren’t notified immediately. 

Monday morning’s icy snowstorm brought high winds that left parts of the city with more than 8 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. By 9 a.m. Monday, 34,000 people in the city were without power.

One of those schools without power was Elizabeth H. Sutherland Elementary School, 10015 S. Leavitt St. The school serves 603 students and they start showing up at 7:45 a.m. for school breakfast. An email sent to parents at 6:44 a.m. Monday told them the school was open and ready for classes but did not mention the building had no electricity.

“CPS and Sutherland School ARE in session today. We ask that ALL families who are choosing to drive today PLEASE remember that our neighbors need to have their driveways clear for entry, exit and shoveling. This is a must EVERY day but please be especially sensitive today,” Margaret Burns wrote, Sutherland’s principal. “Roads will be slushy and treacherous. Please remember there is no ‘leap frogging’ around cars dropping off. Today more than ever, this is extremely dangerous.”

RELATED: 20 Chicago Public Schools Without Power During Classes Monday After Snowstorm

The email to parents also said that sidewalks around the school were going to be shoveled and gave instructions for where parents should drop off their children.

“We realize there will be delays today. No worries. Come on down,” Burns wrote. “We’re excited to get started back up. We missed our big and little Bulldogs and are ready to get started back up. Bundle up and let’s do this!”

A second email from Burns at 7:59 a.m. told parents of the outage at the school and that the phones were not working.

“We are currently experiencing a power outage at Sutherland School. We anticipate that Com Ed will have us restored shortly,” Burns wrote. “Until then, we are continuing with our day. The temperature inside the school is warm but we are light impaired for now.”

Power was not restored to Sutherland until 9:22 a.m., when parents were sent another email letting them know the power had been turned back on.

“We are back to business as usual. It was a cozy low-tech morning. I informed the students we were learning ‘old school’ in the purest sense of the term,” Burns wrote in the second email. “Thanks for your patience. Everything works and the kids are great. If you were putting off coming due to the outage, bundle up and get here! We miss you!”

A parent at Sutherland told Block Club said she and other parents initially found out about the power outage via group text messages with each other once students were already at Sutherland.

Another school without power Monday was Calmeca Academy of Fine Arts and Dual Language at 3456 W. 38th St. The school serves 778 students and also allows them to start entering the building around 7 a.m. Calmeca was without power until about 10 a.m. and once the building had electricity the power was minimal throughout the day, an employee at the school told Block Club.

“Power was in and out the rest of the day, so the bathrooms and heat were in and out too. The bathrooms use electronic sensors so they didn’t work,” the employee said. “The school’s administration couldn’t make a decision on what to do because CPS wouldn’t give them direction. So all the kids were in the gym until 10 a.m.”

Parents were only notified about the power outage via “robocall” around 9 a.m., the employee said. 

“Teachers couldn’t teach because there was no light, no internet, no copy machines or anything,” the employee said. “With backup generators, that just means emergency lights work but they’re very low voltage so you still don’t really have electricity.”

Other schools Block Club identified as being without power on Monday included:

Parents unhappy with how the power outages were handled criticized CPS on the Facebook post school officials used to announce schools were being kept open Monday.

“Just got a call from my son’s school. No electricity? Are you serious CPS? You sent these students out into bad weather into dangerous situations,” Clarke Collins posted. “Why? Most schools around greater Chicagoland were closed. Bad call and you will deal with the consequences if any of our children get hurt or sick from this poor decision.”

Block Club repeatedly reached out to CPS to ask for the full list of schools that were without power on Monday and how parents were notified about the power outages.

CPS did not answer these questions but instead provided a statement from Michael Passman, a CPS spokesperson, regarding what buildings were still without power on Tuesday.

“Providing students with safe learning environments is a top priority, and we have been in regular contact with ComEd to help ensure that schools were ready to welcome students this morning,” Passman said. “Thanks to work done overnight, all but one school now has full power, and CPS has arranged for students at that school to be relocated to an alternate site today.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said schools are without power this week due to years of disinvestment in neighborhood public schools.

“Either CPS bosses do not know the condition of their schools or they do not care,” he said. “There are undoubtedly more schools struggling to cope with fallout from the weekend’s storm, from heating and electricity problems to leaks and other facilities issues.”

Sharkey added that the outages could have been addressed by a building engineer and janitorial staff like they had been in the past, but many of those positions have been eliminated.

Hale Elementary, which serves 902 students, was still without power on Tuesday. Students and staff at Hale were relocated to the nearby Hale Park Field House, CPS officials said.

“Power at Shields Elementary was restored overnight and CPS is working to bring the heating systems online. Building temperatures are in the 60s and will be monitored to ensure it is safe to keep students in the building today,” the statement said.

The statement also said Hale and Shields are in contact with families to provide updates as more information becomes available.

“We are optimistic that the small number of remaining issues will be resolved in a timely manner,” the statement said.

Is your child’s school without power? Email Alex at alex@blockclubchi.org. 

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