Sandwiched between two protests, last Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting was filled with raised voices and teary eyes as the board approved the closing, consolidation and re-staffing of 16 schools.
On the heels of public hearings for the listed schools, the board’s decision to close down schools angered many. A march to protest the decision, led by the Chicago Teachers Union, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, and the Grassroots Education Movement, culminated at the Thompson Center downtown following the meeting. Advocates called for continued opposition to the plan.
Many also spent last Tuesday evening on the sidewalk outside the Chicago Board of Education building in a move to make their voices heard. School organizations and neighborhood groups have been opposing the closings since the list of 22 schools came out Jan. 16. The Chicago Public Schools removed six schools from the list just days before Wednesday’s vote.
“I thank you for removing the schools off the list, but as your own board report acknowledges, the process is going too fast,” said Teacher’s Union President Marilyn Stewart, who testified at the hearing.
Stewart had called for a moratorium on all school closings, and following the vote, denounced the plans as possibly connected to Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.
“If we are fortunate enough to get the Olympics, let’s see how many schools have been destroyed for a two-week venue. So I don’t know, only time will tell if certain schools are cleared out, or certain neighborhoods are cleared out before this,” she said.
During the meeting, parents, teachers and students whose families would be affected by this year’s closings demanded the board to reconsider shuttering schools for poor academic performance and low enrollment. They argued that simply closing schools doesn’t address larger problems affecting the school district.
Opponents testified against the perceived fiscal bias of the board. Sean Barrett, a teacher at Julian High School on the South Side, encouraged parents should stand together.
“The custodian of your children’s future doesn’t answer to the mayor or the business elite or anyone else who doesn’t have your children’s best interest in mind,” Barrett said.
Former school board president Michael Scott chaired the hearing in place of Rufus Williams, who resigned as board president two weeks ago. Previous meetings featured some theatrics, with a parent at one time dressing in a grim reaper outfit and carrying a baby doll splotched with red. Wednesday’s hearing also has its share of unscheduled events.
Rico Gutstein, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher working with the Grassroots Education Movement, accused the board of allowing those with positive comments to speak before opponents of Renaissance 2010 despite the order of the speakers list.
Kristine Mayle, a teacher at De La Cruz Academy on the West Side, asked the board whether any of them had read every transcript of the public hearings preceding their vote.
Following the silence, Mayle responded: “If none of you read them, you don’t have any business closing these schools.”
Fenger High School, 11220 S. Wallace
Best Practice High School, 2040 W. Adams (in the Cregier Multiplex)
Dulles Elementary School, 6311 S. Calumet
Johnson Elementary, 1420 S. Albany
Bethune Elementary, 3030 W. Arthington
Nia Middle, 2040 W. Adams (in the Cregier Multiplex)
Foundations Elementary, 2040 W. Adams (in the Cregier Multiplex)
Princeton Academy, 5125 S. Princeton
South Chicago Elementary, 8255 S. Houston
Abbott Elementary, 3630 S. Wells
Davis Developmental Center, 9101 S. Jeffrey
Medill Elementary, 1301 W. 14th St.
Schiller Middle, 640 W. Scott
Carpenter Elementary, 1250 W. Erie
Lathrop Elementary, 1440 S. Christiana
Walter Reed Elementary, 6350 S. Stewart