Chicago Public Schools agreed last Tuesday to grant immediate transfers to a group of 10 Fenger High School students who want to change schools because of what they say are lingering safety concerns after the beating death of a 16-year-old student.
But the transfer offer, brokered behind closed doors at Dirksen Federal Courthouse by the schools’ and students’ attorneys, did little to quell the concerns of Cassandra White-Robinson, the mother of two Fenger students. She promised to withdraw Malcolm Robinson, 17, and Charles Robinson, 15, immediately.
“My kids are coming out,” said White-Robinson, whose sons are among the plaintiffs, when she learned the agreement would still require them to make what she says is a perilous trek to school through the gang-infested streets of Roseland.
“It’s over. As a mother, I’m killing my kids [by allowing them to make the commute].”
The district agreed to allow students to transfer to one of three schools: Morgan Park, Lincoln Park and Julian. Students also have the option of applying to Carver Military Academy, where school officials promised an expedited admissions process, the students’ attorney, Christopher Cooper, said. He added that only the Fenger students listed as plaintiffs would be given the opportunity to transfer under Tuesday’s agreement
“It’s a temporary solution, certainly,” Cooper added. “My clients want Carver to become their high school again.”
Parents such as White-Robinson said the only acceptable option is for the district to open a neighborhood school within Carver and allow students from Altgeld to take classes there. That will allow her sons to avoid making what she said is the treacherous commute from Altgeld Gardens to Roseland.
“We want Carver,” White-Robinson told Cooper, after he gave her news of the settlement in the court’s chambers. “You tell them to get ready to arrest me because my kids are coming out.”
It was not clear Tuesday why school officials limited the list of schools to which Fenger students could transfer to three, or why only students listed as plaintiffs would be granted immediate transfers. School officials and central office staff did not respond to requests seeking comment. The district’s attorney, Susan O’Keefe, also declined to comment or speak about the agreement. Because the deal was made at a settlement conference, it was not open to the public or the press, said U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman.
Earlier this month, 10 students filed the lawsuit against Chicago schools, saying their constitutional right to an education was being violated because the district would not allow them to transfer after the beating death of 16-year-old Fenger student Derrion Albert on Sept. 24. At least 100 students have transferred to other high schools in the last two months, school officials have said.
Parents and students say that a decades-old war among students from rival neighborhoods was reignited in 2006, when students from Altgeld Gardens, the public housing project, were reassigned to Fenger after their neighborhood school, Carver, was transformed into a selective-enrollment military school.
The district recently announced plans to open a charter school near Altgeld Gardens, but that school isn’t expected to open until after this school year.
Chicago Public Schools’ O’Keefe agreed to appear again in court at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16, Cooper said. At that point, Cooper expects to address the lingering safety concerns of Fenger students such as Kermiria Wellington, 18, who told him she doesn’t want to transfer to another school but her personal safety is threatened at Fenger.
Students have told Cooper the security guards don’t stop the fights they witness. The district has said it’s already doing everything it can to increase security.
White-Robinson doesn’t understand why the district won’t show more flexibility.
“These people are playing with kids’ lives.”