Parents fear Orrington School is not safe

Plywood blocks access to broken playground equipment at Orrington.

Broken playground equipment, sewage backups, lead in the water and lack of secure entrances were all complaints brought to Evanston/Skokie District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren at an informal meeting Wednesday morning at Curt’s Café South.

Three Orrington parents complained about a broken swing and a bridge in the school’s playscape that’s missing its bridge deck. Two pieces of plywood in place at either end of the bridge are designed to prevent the kids from climbing across it.

One parent said that her five-year-old son fell from the equipment recently and suffered a concussion and has staples and stitches in his head.

Another parent said that they were told by the principal in September that the part for the bridge has been ordered, “but it’s May and it’s still broken.”

The parents also expressed concern about the lack of a secure double door entrance. While visitors to the school are asked to register, anyone who gets through the front entrance has access to the entire building. A secure double entrance would require a person to register in the entryway before being granted access through a second door into the building.

The parents said that they supported the referendum in 2017 and assumed that a secure entrance would be added to Orrington this year, but the entrance is scheduled for 2019.

“Why weren’t the safety entrances put in all schools at the same time?” asked one parent.


A broken swing on the Orrington playground.

Goren responded that the referendum funds will not come all at once and $1 million has been allocated to capital expenditures each year. King Arts and Washington school entrances will be updated this summer and Lincolnwood, Orrington and Bessie Rhodes will be done next year.

He noted that the program to add secure double doors was stopped four years ago, before he became superintendent, because there was no money to do it.

Everyone who works in the system wears a lanyard, he said, and a uniform check-in system is being implemented across all schools.

Confusion about lockdown protocols adds to the parents’ sense that the schools aren’t secure. When the school was locked down during the swatting incident at Northwestern University in March, some parents thought they were not allowed into the building until the lockdown was lifted while they watched other parents walk into the building, without even showing ID, to pick up their children.  

The parents noted that doors to the building are sometimes propped open by after school staff to make it easier for parents to pick up their children.

“Insecure entrances, broken playground equipment, lead, sewage overflows,” said one parent.  “It feels like Orrington is not safe.”

The parent was referring to a sewage overflow that resulted after a microburst caused so much rain to fall quickly that it caused the sewer system to overflow and flood into the building.


Water running off Orrington's flat roof is blamed for sewer backups in the school's basement. (Google Maps)

“The plumbing has been fixed now,” said another parent. “What will be done to prevent it happening again?”

Goren said that engineers are checking the flat-roofed building to see if rain can be directed off another part of the roof, toward the basketball court or front gardens, and away from sewer system.

Goren noted that all of the schools in the district have been tested for lead and faucets have been shut down where lead was found.

Goren also noted that asbestos is under the tile in some schools, including Orrington. As long as the asbestos is sealed it’s technically okay to leave it. However, the district is being proactive and removing all asbestos from the schools this summer.

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