Reporting Pam Zekman
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Public Schools are constantly being scrutinized for improving test scores and academic standards.
But who’s watching to make sure the school’s kitchens and lunchrooms are being kept up to safety standards?
CBS 2’s Pam Zekman reports.
Since 2011, 244 of Chicago’s 681 schools failed at least one inspection, according to a review of city health department inspections by the 2 Investigators. That’s 35 percent with at least one failed inspection.
The Anton Dvorak Elementary School had the worst record. Since 2011, Dvorak has failed city health inspections six times for reasons such as no hot water in bathroom sinks, food kept at unsafe temperatures and more than 200 rodent droppings found in food service areas.
Food safety expert Kantha Shelke reviewed the city health inspection reports.
“Rodent infestation, in addition to soiling and destroying property, also spreads disease, some of which can be painful and fatal,” she says.
At Cameron Elementary, inspectors found a mice dropping infestation in the main kitchen, with “more than 600 scattered” droppings.
“You could get sick here and end up in the hospital,” says Johnny Olivo, the father of a Cameron student. “That’s crazy.”
And that’s what just happened at Hirsch Metro High School. Mice got into some nachos and several students actually got sick eating rodent droppings.
“They said it was rat droppings, mouse droppings in the nachos,” says Johnese James, a Hirsch student. “My stomach was hurting, I threw up and I had diarrhea.”
Hirsch was cited just last year for its rodent problem.
After kids got sick this month, workers were hired to patch holes around the outside of the building that vermin used to access the school. The kitchen was shut down and six kitchen workers were sent home and may face disciplinary action.
But Leslie Fowler, who was appointed executive director of Nutritional Support Services for CPS two months ago, is not happy about what happened.
“Quite frankly, it was a failure at all levels,” she says.
Hirsh now has a new principal and new kitchen staff.
Other schools that failed inspections include Farragut Academy, where inspectors said there were too many droppings too count; Songhai Learning Academy, where a live snake was found stuck to glue paper in the kitchen; and Ariel Academy, where inspectors heard “gnawing sounds” in the wall.
“Makes you wonder if you are talking about a Chicago public school or a Chicago public zoo,” Shelke says.
Fowler, the new school-lunch boss for CPS, met CBS 2 at Brian Piccolo Elementary School, which had failed two previous inspections. It was spotless for the visit.
Like other schools, Zekman pointed out, health inspectors had found rodent droppings all over the kitchen area, many in plain sight on the ledge of a steam table and inside a food warmer which kitchen staff must have seen.
Fowler says she will improve school lunches system-wide by making sure proper procedures are followed, implementing changes that will prevent future lapses and increasing oversight.
Her message to staff: “Don’t let me find out that a student is harmed at your hands. This is unacceptable. Not on my watch.”
All of the schools in this report eventually passed inspections, including most recently Hirsh, where the kitchen is now open and the staff replaced.