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We received numerous reports about unclean schools and facilities as we prepared for the start to the year, but there is some good news to share regarding a school cleanliness arbitration victory at Simeon High School.

Since Chicago Public Schools subcontracted janitorial services to Aramark a few years ago, cleanliness has gone downhill in our buildings. We challenged this issue at Simeon through a number of grievances, and this summer, prevailed.

An arbitrator found that rooms in the school were not cleaned daily based on evidence consisting of extensive photos and testimony from teachers that the problems were ongoing, and an admission from former principal Sheldon House that daily cleaning — or the lack thereof — was a problem.

In fact, the Board of Education’s witnesses actually ended up supporting us. Their testimony about their recent efforts to supervise Aramark custodians provided more evidence that cleanliness was a major problem at Simeon.

In the end, the arbitrator agreed with us that CPS had not been keeping schools clean as the contract requires, and as a remedy, required posting a cleaning tracking sheet for both custodians and teachers to mark. The language of the decision is as follows:

The Arbitrator directs that the Employer construct a form for placement in each classroom, washroom teacher office and lounge. The form should provide separate boxes in which a custodian will check off whether the room in question was swept, deep cleaned and trash discarded. This portion of the form should be completed on a daily basis. There should be a space on the form for the teacher who is assigned to that space to check off if it appears to the teacher on the day following that the cleaning activity had been performed. In addition, there should be space for the teacher to make any comments, requests or suggestions. There should be space for the custodian to likewise make a suggestion or request. There should be space on the form for the teacher and custodian to print their names. The forms for the classrooms, the washrooms and the gyms should be collected by the building Principal on the night before he/she does a walk-through the building. The form should have a place for the Principal to sign off after reviewing the daily forms and the completion of a weekly walk through. The Principal should communicate any issues or problems to Aramark and its subcontractor TFM, the ones responsible for supervision and management of the custodians and Building Engineers at Simeon.

Special thanks to the Simeon delegate, teachers and staff, as well as CTU education policy analyst Sarah Rothschild, who were critical in gathering evidence for this case. This situation shows the importance of school-level safety committees, which are perhaps the most powerful tool to help us navigate the coming days and weeks, and demand safety improvements on the ground.

We can show our commitment to the well-being of our students and families by making sure every school community puts their committee into action, so please plan to join tomorrow’s safety committee training, meet with your administration (if you haven’t already), and review protocols and schedule air testing for every classroom.

[Previous grievance win: Member discipline dropped over return-to-work parent communication]