Digging Up Dirt: This Reporter’s Investigation Finds Filthy Chicago Schools
Lax oversight of private custodial services a big factor, Chicago Sun-Times finds (EWA Radio: Episode 169)
When Chicago Public Schools decided to privatize its custodial and facilities maintenance services in 2014, district officials promised it would mean cleaner campuses. But as Lauren FitzPatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times reports in a new series, that’s a far cry from the reality. Instead, inspectors found rat and bug infestations, filthy bathrooms, and potentially hazardous conditions for students and staff. With a half-billion dollars in district contracts at stake, FitzPatrick used open records requests to build a paper trail of questionable practices by district officials — one of whom has resigned in the wake of her reporting — and lax oversight of the private companies that did the work. How did FitzPatrick’s daily beat reporting lay the groundwork for her investigation, including building trust among key sources? What tips does she have for making the most of open records requests — especially proactive ones that help to stay ahead of the next big story? FitzPatrick also shares story ideas for reporters covering school facilities issues, including the potential impact student on student health and academic outcomes.