Chicago Public Schools officials have failed to file a single report on the district’s emergency action plans in the six years they've been required, the Illinois State Board of Education told NBC5 Investigates.
Such reports, proving schools have conducted mandatory fire, evacuation and law enforcement drills, have been required of every school district in the state since 2006.
NBC5 Investigates has filed repeated requests through the Freedom of Information Act to see the emergency plans for CPS' so-called "welcoming schools." Those requests were repeatedly stalled and then last Thursday, citing security issues, were denied by the district altogether.
"The reason these plans are not accessible to the public is because they contain sensitive information," Freedom of Information officer Cassandra Daniels said in her letter, rejecting the request. "Disclosure of these plans could jeopardize the safety of students, staff, and other members of the community, or the successful implementation of the plans."
But the denial, coupled with the ISBE's assertion that no reports have ever been filed, have led some to question whether or not the plans and reports even exist.
"I've asked members if they've been trained. I've asked members if they know what certain codes are," said Dr. John Kugler, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union's safety committee. "Have they seen codes posted? Did they know where emergency kits are? Specific things involving emergency plans ... and to this day, 100 percent of my members say they don't know what these things are."
Kugler's requests to see the reports have also been denied, even though a state law clearly indicates: "Other education-related organizations deemed appropriate by the district..." are allowed to take part in the emergency-planning process.
"How can you keep people safe if they don't know what to do in an emergency?" he questioned.
In a written statement, CPS officials insisted that every school in the district does, in fact, have a plan but said they were limited to "management level staff within the Office of Safety and Security," building principals and assistant principals, and officials of the Chicago Police and Fire Departments.
As the Chicago Schools close buildings and consolidate school populations, Kugler insisted it was more important than ever for the emergency plans to be made public.
"You’re taking students and staff out of their regular work environments and school environments and putting them into a foreign place where they might not know escape routes," he said. "They might not know where a safe zone is to get out of a school."
CPS could not explain their failure to comply with the state law documenting their plans and associated mandatory drills. But they insisted late Monday that the plans are in existence and well practiced.
“Every school has custom safety and emergency plans in place, to provide for the well-being of staff and students,” said spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “CPS has been in compliance with all state-mandated emergency drills and completing emergency plans. We are working with ISBE to ensure proper documentation is provided by the Oct. 1 deadline.
If so, that would be the first time since the rules were signed into law, that the city had complied.
Clarification: This report initially and incorrectly said the reports have been required since 2007. The law mandating them was passed in 2005. They were first required for the 2006 school year and were to have been submitted by 2007.