Members of the Westside Health Authority and Austin residents braved warmer than normal morning temperatures and a seasonal chill in the afternoon Monday, hosting prayer vigils at Douglass Academy and Austin High School concerning the increased violence at Chicago schools.
Austin High School, 231 N. Pine, has not accepted new students this year and will consolidate in the fall into three small schools as mandated by Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 school restructuring plan. Austin’s enrollment has dropped to less than 200 students while some have relocated to the other schools on the West and South Sides.
The Chicago Journal reported last month an increase in violence at schools that accepted displaced 2010 students.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday that violence at Wells High School, Hyde Park Career Academy and Clemente High School have seen violence explode since those schools begin accepting students from shuttered Renaissance 2010 schools, including students from Austin.
Activists and opponents of the mayor’s school initiative have called for a moratorium on school closings and for an independent study on the impact the schools are having on children.
“Our goal here is to create awareness about what’s going on,” said Khalid Johnson, organizer with the Westside Health Authority. “The students that are being affected by these school closings don’t even know their schools are being closed. Many of these students we talked to didn’t even know their schools were on the list for restructuring.”
Schools accepting displace students have reported fights and beatings at those schools. The schools have also sighted increased gang violence and racial tensions among students from different areas.
An Austin student reportedly beat a Hispanic student at Clemente High School last November, according to news accounts.
Austin resident Lisa Young, 39, who attended Monday’s afternoon vigil said her nephew, a former Austin student, transferred to Crane High School, 2245 W. Jackson, last September prior to the start of the new year, and was involved in a fight the first week of school.
“I’m for keeping the school open,” said Young, an Austin High School alum herself whose son attended Austin before transferring. “I understand it’s about taking a bigger school and making into a smaller school, but smaller for who? What they need to do is leave Austin open and start evaluating from the inside of closing the school and grabbing up land.”
One of three proposed new schools will open on the Austin Campus this fall. The Business and Entrepreneur Academy will begin accepting students in August. Two other schools are slated to open by 2007 and 2008. But Austin residents aren’t sure what future will hold for the high school campus and students.
“Are they going to put all of them together, elementary and high school students in the same school?” asked Young. “That’s still not a safe zone for our kids.”