Thousands of protestors gathered at Daley Plaza on March 27 in hopes of halting the 53 elementary school closings primarily facing the city’s South and West sides.
The Chicago Teachers Union led last Wednesday’s protest. Upset parents, teachers, students and the community at large descended on Daley Plaza, later marching to the Chicago Public Schools’ headquarters at125 S. Clark.
Representatives of both closing and non-closing schools gathered to show support. They also wanted to send a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the district that they are not going down without a fight.
“We’re going to keep thinking of very innovative ways to educate and empower parents against these closings,” said Austin resident and activist Dwayne Truss.
Austin’s Horatio May Community Academy, Francis Scott Key Elementary, Louis Armstrong Elementary and Robert Emmet Elementary are expected to be shuttered as part of CPS’ plans to close “underutilized” schools, in an effort to chip away at a $1 billion budget deficit.
Those currently enrolled at those schools will have to find new campuses to attend. Students from Key, Armstrong and Emmet will attend other West Side schools, while those attending May will remain at their building, but joined by students from Emmet and Leland.
“How the hell are you going to take a level 1 school, level 2 school and level 3 school and combine them?” asked Cata Truss, a community activist and wife of Truss.
Teachers from May and Armstrong will have to reapply for a position at Leland. In all, over 1,100 teachers will be out of a job, according to the CPS press release.
Asif Wilson, A seventh-grade math and science teacher at May, supported his school by marching with the community last week.
“It’s good to see not just teachers and students speak but everybody affected by school closings up here speaking, rallying and trying to unite,” said Wilson.
Speakers last week included teachers, students and community organizers, as well as Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The head of the Teachers Union urged parents not to give up.
“It’s not over brothers and sister until you say it’s over,” said Lewis.
Lewis suggested that parents send their children to their current schools on the first day of classes in the fall to show the district they will not stand for the closings.
“They are closing down schools with names of African-American icons, but [Rahm Emanuel] will open schools to put a living billionaire on the front,” said Lewis.
During the march, protesters sat in front of City Hall on LaSalle Street, locking arms and chanting “save our children.”
According to reports, about 150 protestors who staged the sit-in were ticketed.
“I don’t think [the district] will listen,” said Lettrice Jamison, Local School Council president at Emmet. “We have to keep doing what we did today.”
Both Jamison and Wilson hope CPS officials were listening. They also hope CPS will address their concerns at the community meetings and public hearings scheduled for this month.
Jamison worries class sizes at the consolidated schools will grow and hurt her children, one of whom has been on the honor roll at Emmet for years.
“Classroom size are going to get bigger,” she said. “It’s going to be a war in the classrooms. Teachers won’t have any control.”
According to a CPS press release, each welcoming school will have sufficient space for the number of students expected to attend in the fall.
CPS intends to close 54 schools at the end of the current school year this summer. That’s believed to be the greatest number of schools affected in one district nationwide.
“We’re trying to show the Board of Education and the mayor that we’re not going to sit quietly and idly by and allow this to happen,” Cata Truss said. “We vote, and we will remember. 2016 is not that far away.”
Reema Amin contributed to this article.