FOX Chicago exposes dirty school cafeterias - FOX 32 News Chicago

FOX Chicago investigates: Dirty school lunchrooms, Part 1

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Hirsch High School's cafeteria is back open after a student got sick after eating mouse droppings in her nachos, but a FOX Chicago investigation shows rodent droppings are a problem at many Chicago Public Schools.

Eight CPS schools have failed health inspections because of rodent issues in just the last month: Hirsch, Brownell, Bouchet, Brooks, Fenger, Brown Academy, Burnside and CICS Avalon Park South Shore.

"I had no idea. She'll be bag lunching it from now on. I had no idea," said one parent of a student at Brownell Elementary, after we showed her our findings.

At Hirsch, a health inspector's report revealed more than 350 rodent droppings in the building. But a suspended school cafeteria worker, Betty Winters, says rodents have been a problem at the school for a long time.

"Food shouldn't have been stored in that basement from the beginning knowing they had mice down there," Winters said.

Winters is one of six workers suspended. She says the district knew about the rodent problem before the student got sick.

"I really feel bad for that little girl, I really do, and it just took this for them to notice issues we've been complaining about for years. It took this incident," Winters said.

FOX Chicago obtained a collection of statements from cafeteria employees like Winters, where they claim to have repeatedly complained to the school's former principal about the rodent problem. They say they even had a meeting with district's former cafeteria manager on school property last year.

"There's no 'not knowing' at all. They knew," Winters said.

The school district confirms that meeting did happen, but claims to have no record of what was discussed. They say the meeting was about personnel issues, and nothing more. The principal and manager no longer work for the district.

Leslie Fowler joined CPS in August. She's now in charge of the district's nutrition and cafeterias. She promises going forward, when Chicago Schools have rodent issues, they'll voluntarily shut down their own kitchens, and not just wait for health inspectors or sick kids like at Hirsch.

"Everyone dropped the ball. There were processes that should have been followed that weren't followed," Fowler said.

Fowler couldn't explain why that didn't happen just weeks ago, when mouse droppings were found under a food prep table at Fenger High School, or when droppings turned up behind a stove at Brownell Elementary. Those schools did pass re-inspections days later, but they never notified parents, and never stopped serving food. Hirsch failed two more inspections, even after students got sick and the kitchen was shut down. The school's kitchen finally reopened last week, with a new staff and building repairs.

"Hirsch is clean today. Absolutely, and it has passed its most recent inspection without issue," Fowler said.

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