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CLOSINGS_1

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Windy Pearson of Action Now calls for a two-year stop to Chicago Public School closings at Friday's rally at City Hall. Ten protesters were later arrested after refusing to leave.


CPS seeks to extend deadline on campus closings announcement; 10 arrested at anti-school closure rally

by Rebecca LaFlure
Nov 06, 2012


CLOSINGS_3

Rebecca LaFlure/MEDILL

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Chicago Public Schools' request to delay school closure announcements until March would not give parents, students and teachers adequate notice of their schools' future.

CLOSINGS_4

Rebecca LaFlure/MEDILL

"We want our children to stay in the communities they were raised in," Zakiyyah Muhammad, a community activist, said at Friday's rally against school closings. "Our children are pushed into other communities where they could be shot, beat up and killed."

Three years ago, Camille Mathis helped successfully fight against a Chicago Public Schools plan to close Mollison Elementary School, the Bronzeville campus her daughter attends. She now worries that Mollison, which has been designated as low performing, could be back on the chopping block.

“It’s like waiting for a knife to come down in your back,” she said. “My family has been educated in Bronzeville for five generations. Why can’t that continue?”

Mathis, of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, was one of nearly 200 protestors gathered at City Hall Friday, calling for a two-year halt to Chicago Public School closings. Ten protesters were arrested on trespassing charges when they refused to leave later that evening, Mike Sullivan, a Chicago police officer, confirmed.

The demonstration began outside City Hall in the late afternoon and continued indoors outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

The rally was held the same day newly appointed Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced the district would seek to extend its Dec. 1 deadline to release school closure plans. The deadline extension requires approval from the Illinois legislature.

An estimated 100 low-performing and under-enrolled Chicago public schools could face closure, as CPS seeks to consolidate resources and save money in a district that projects a $1 billion budget deficit next fiscal year.

“Our district is not serving all the needs of all our children because our resources are stretched so thin,” Byrd-Bennett said in a statement. “We simply can’t do what is necessary for our kids while school buildings are crumbling or provide the resources for a 21st century education that they deserve. When we consolidate schools that are underutilized or half empty, we will be able to better invest those resources across the district.”

Byrd-Bennett appointed a nine-member commission to gather information, seek community input and make recommendations on school closings. The commission is expected to release a schedule of upcoming public hearings this week.

“March is much too late to be announcing public school closings,” Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said. “Parents need a chance to know what schools exist so they know their kids are going. Teachers need to know what schools exist so they know where they’re going to work.”

The announcement of public hearings did not deter protesters, who questioned why CPS officials are mulling public school closure plans while still expanding charters, schools that are privately run and receive some public funding.

“It has to do with expanding charter schools run by rich, corporate businessmen,” said Windy Pearson of Action Now, an organization that is focused on social justice issues. “Public education is not a business operation. It’s a basic human right.”

However, Ray Quintanilla, spokesman of the UNO charter school network, which operates charter schools in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, pointed out that charter schools offer an alternative for parents, particularly to those whose children attend low-performing public schools. And because charters are privately run, they face less bureaucracy and are able to more quickly make decisions addressing problems, he said.

He noted that all UNO charter schools are located in areas of Chicago where public schools are overcrowded, not under-enrolled.

“CPS has a fixed budget. They don’t have a bottomless well of cash flow,” Quintanilla said. “They have to make important decisions of how to best balance the district’s needs and what’s best for students. And I think they’re doing that.”