In spite of vehement protesting, parental outcry, and lawsuit threats, the hand-picked, mayoral-appointed Chicago Board of Education has overwhelmingly voted to close 49 elementary schools and one high school. This bothers me on so many levels.
The board has made claims that the school closings will help close a $1 billion deficit. It also will allow, according to the board, displaced students to benefit by attending better-performing schools in upgraded facilities with libraries and air conditioning. Little mention has been made of the added change in teacher-student ratio and the probability of increased class size by as much as 40 percent.
Since the March announcement of proposed school closings, I have spoken with many Austin residents who have taken to the streets in protest, some of whom have even been arrested.
One mother echoed the concerns of many when she said, “the board’s vote to close the schools is actually a death sentence to our children.”
The closures were finalized two weeks ago, requiring many students to attend new schools outside of their communities. Some will have to walk, and others will have to travel by public buses.
Parents are concerned for their children’s safety because some routes will require children to travel across rival gang lines. In a city where there were 506 murders last year, this is a legitimate concern, especially since many were innocent victims of gang violence.
Many believe the school closings adversely affect mostly African-American and Latino communities. As reported in the New York Times, 88 percent of the students affected by Chicago Public School closings since 2011 were African-Americans.
Since 2003, there has been a decline in the number of school-age students by approximately 145,000. School performance is down, and the school cultures and environment have changed drastically. I understand the need for change. But I fear the closing of 50 schools is too much. It opens the communities up to a plethora of potentially more serious problems.
I am a product of Chicago public schools. From kindergarten through high school, I had a very different educational experience than that of today’ students. The daily threat of eminent danger and gang violence was not as rampant back then.
Looking over the closure list, I recognized many schools I will be sad to see go. My elementary school, Benjamin Banneker, is one of the schools to be closed. This saddens me because it is in the heart of Englewood.
It was the school where, as a young girl, I met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who visited the school shortly before he was assignation.
King visited the school because it was one of the first, if not the first, public school named for an African-American. The history of his visit alone should merit keeping it opened, as well as others.
The vote is in, but the battle is still raging.
The Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) has filed lawsuits on behalf of parents and students.
One suit alleges the closures violates the American Disability Act — that CPS failed to establish an orderly process for special needs children who will be destabilized due to the closures.
A second suit alleges racial discrimination in that the closures disproportionately impact African-American students. A four-day hearing is set to begin Tuesday July 16, before U.S. District Judge John Lee. I can only hope that this will prevail; that the parents and students are given a reprieve from the closures.
And that the school board will come up with a plan more in line with the will of the people, the true stakeholders in public education.