More Chicago Public Schools officials attended the first round of community meetings for Austin’s Horatio May Elementary and Louis Armstrong Elementary than members from the community.
Few attended the May and Armstrong community meeting on April 6, due in part to a last-minute effort by local residents to save the four Austin elementary schools slated for closure. Also because of recent comments by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that CPS’s decision is final.
After the list came out in late March, Emanuel defended Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s decision, saying the time for negotiation is over.
“We felt disrespected by the mayor’s comments and that motivated us,” said Austin resident and activist Dwayne Truss of Raise Your Hand. “[His comments] were cocky, arrogant and disrespectful.”
Rather than voice concerns at the CPS-organized community meeting — hosted on the Austin high school campus, 231 N. Pine — Truss and others fighting to keep the schools open hosted a boycott meeting at May, 512 S. Lavergne Ave.
“Why should we go to a CPS community meeting in which the mayor said it doesn’t make any difference?” Truss said.
In a press release issued after the April 6 meeting, CPS officials said, “today’s meetings have been very peaceful, productive and without incident.”
Officials at the Austin meeting declined to comment on the low turnout.
Only two residents spoke at the May and Armstrong meeting, and both had attended the event at May earlier that day. The meeting started at 10 a.m., but the first speaker didn’t come on until nearly noon. CPS officials and the lingering crowd sat quietly during the entire meeting.
“We oppose, oppose, one more time for the holy ghost, oppose school closings, turnarounds and redirections — or whatever CPS wants to call them,” said Wanda Hopkins, assistant director for Parents United for Responsible Education; she’s also a liaison for South Austin Coalition Community Council.
According to Hopkins, whose children attended CPS schools in the 1980s, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley asked her over two decades ago why she advocates for public schools. Hopkins recalled replying: “The reason why I advocate for Johnny, is because I don’t want him to kill my children, who I know are going to make it.”
“If I can make sure Johnny gets what he needs, then he will not be there to do something to my child,” she added.
Catherine Jones, the second speaker at the meeting also voiced concern about safety. She said it’s too dangerous for children to cross gang lines to get to their new schools.
Jones was part of a five-person parent patrol team at Francis Scott Key Elementary. The members made sure traffic slowed down around children and got them into the building safely.
“Our kids shouldn’t be put in that predicament,” Jones said.
Truss informed CPS officials present that there’s an alternative plan in the works for the schools.
“I came so we had something on record for the board so that they can never say that we didn’t present an alternative,” Truss said.
The alternative proposal suggests keeping May, Armstrong, and Robert Emmet Elementary open, and moving Francis Scott Key Elementary into the same building with Frederick Douglass High School. It also calls for cost-effective turnaround for Leslie Lewis Elementary, among other actions.
“We want to show that we are behind all of our schools,” Truss said.