Chicago Schools Combat Rodents in 'Cleanup Blitz'

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The Chicago school system is mounting an unprecedented, multimillion- dollar "cleanup blitz" of the city's 600 public schools to tackle a rodent problem.

Students will have to eat cold lunches as district employees, city workers, and perhaps outside contractors exterminate mice in schools and make repairs to ensure that buildings are rodent-proof.

District officials estimate that the cleanup will cost more than $4 million and could take up to three months to complete. Work was scheduled to begin late last month in 100 schools.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's "Dumpster Task Force," which was formed in 1994 to bolster the city's efforts to enforce the sanitation code, alerted the 438,000-student district about its rodent trouble in December.

Of the 30 initial schools inspected since December, 13 failed and had to shut down their kitchens.

Task force members on a routine check of neighborhood businesses that serve or sell food found rodent burrows near a fence line around Lane Tech High School. Once inside the school, inspectors found signs of rodent infestation.

Warning to Workers

Matt Smith, the chief spokesman for the city's streets and sanitation department, said inspectors found that school kitchens were being only "cosmetically cleaned." He said district officials instead must emphasize protecting food, securing doors, and eliminating gaps in walls to prevent infestation by rats and mice.

He added that the district had responded to the problem. "It's not that mice want a Chicago-style meal," Mr. Smith said. "Any city can learn from our experience."

Celeste Garrett, a Chicago schools spokeswoman, said employees would work around students' schedules. She added that staff members may be suspended or fired if school facilities don't remain clean.

In a news release, Arne Duncan, the district's chief executive officer, warned last month, "I'm putting every school-based employee on notice today: If you can't keep your schools clean, we'll find someone who can."

Vol. 23, Issue 21, Page 3

Published in Print: February 4, 2004, as Chicago Schools Combat Rodents in 'Cleanup Blitz'
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