Hundreds of education activists took to the city's West Side streets Saturday as part of a three-day march in opposition of Chicago Public Schools’ plan to close 54 schools, among other actions, in June. Progress Illinois was there for the march.
Hundreds of education activists took to the city's West Side streets Saturday as part of a three-day march in opposition of Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) plan to close 54 schools, among other school actions, in June.
The West Side march kicked off Saturday morning at Jean D. Lafayette Elementary School in Humboldt Park. Lafayette is one of the schools CPS wants to shut down at the end of the academic year.
Marchers also made their way to other West Side schools on the closing list including Martin A. Ryerson Elementary, Guglielmo Marconi Elementary Community Academy, Robert Emmet Elementary, Horatio May Elementary Community Academy and Edward C. Delano Elementary.
A similar march was also held on the South Side Saturday. The marches will continue Sunday and Monday. A rally is also set to take place at Daley Plaza Monday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.
The Chicago Board of Education will vote on whether to approve CPS’ proposed school actions May 22.
“People know that they have to fight for their schools,” said Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis outside of Marconi. “It’s not over, and it wont be over when the vote is made. It depends on how hard people still want to fight.”
There are a variety of ways to put a stop to the proposed school closings if the board of education approves CPS’ plan, Lewis said. A bill that looks to put a temporary moratorium on school closings is pending in the state legislature.
“We would still hope to hear from Springfield if we haven’t heard from them before,” Lewis said.
Two federal class action lawsuits against the school closings that were filed Wednesday are also still in play, she added.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that a few schools may be knocked off of the closing list before the board takes a vote, according to City Hall sources.
In response to that news, Lewis said there are schools that “absolutely do not belong on this list.”
She added that closing 54 schools at one time is “unmanageable.”
“I think people are starting to realize that, and maybe it took the mayor some time to figure that out,” Lewis said. “Things that might look good on paper don’t necessarily look good when it comes to the actual planning. I hope (Mayor Rahm Emanuel) is paying attention.”
Some parents and community members in Humboldt Park were critical of Ald. Roberto Maldonado's (26th) response to the school closings.
Rosemary Vega, a parent of two children at Lafayette, said Maldonado has done “nothing to stop the discrimination taking place in our community.”
Here’s more from Vega:
Magdalene Thurmond, another Humboldt Park parent, said Maldonado and other elected officials in support of shutting down schools are “destroying” low-income and minority communities.
“Our alderman needs to listen and respect their own community instead of listening to people outside their community,” she said. “By denying our children their rights to education, they are trying to keep our children and our community in poverty.”
Thurmond said community members, parents and students need to let Maldonado and others know that they are not going to let city officials “destroy our children’s lives and the communities that we live in.”
“This is not the end people ... this is the beginning, and we want to let them know that we're going to fight,” she said.
Paul Strauss from the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said he and 120 other lawyers have signed a letter in opposition of the school closings, which they plan to send to Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and board of education members.
Strauss said the school closings are “badly thought out” and disorganized.
“They will not be done in an effective manner to serve your children,” he said outside Lafayette. “We oppose these school closings, because they have a racially-disparate impact, and because there have been no plans made that will take care of students with special education needs.”
He said the school district will not be able to manage the school closings in a proper way, resulting in "disaster" and "destruction" in minority communities.
Education leaders from across the country also stood in solidarity with the Chicago marchers.
Natasha Capers with the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice said activists in her city have helped stave off more than 160 school closings in their area over the past decade.
“This is not a New York fight,” she said. “This is not a Chicago fight. This is not a Philadelphia fight. This not a Newark fight. This is a national fight.”
She added that lines can no longer be drawn between cities and communities.
“No longer can the powers that be keep us in our segregated little boxes, can keep us in Brooklyn, can keep us on the South Side, can keep us on the West Side,” Capers said. “No longer can they do that.”
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey addressed the crowd at Lafayette and said parents, teachers and community members are tired of taking the blame for the public school system’s challenges.
“We are sick of being blamed for all the shortcomings of our society that would leave your child in poverty, that would leave a school without a library, that would leave a kid without a meal,” Sharkey told the crowd. “And they’re going to blame the parents, and they’re going to blame the community, and they’re going to blame the people who were there every day.”
Here’s more from Sharkey:
Valerie Nelson, the Local School Council chair at Lafayette, said the school has one of the largest string orchestra programs in the city and one of the most recommended low-incidence autism programs.
“We are not underutilized, we are under resourced by CPS,” Nelson said. “CPS once said the way to close a school is [to] starve them of resources. The two best programs have been starved of resources.”
Lewis said the goal of the march is to continue to draw attention to the overall disinvestment seen and felt in several Chicago communities.
The marches will show “what our communities look like, and that they’re people living here, and people who support the people who are living here,” Lewis said.
“Everyone needs to see that these communities are worth investing in, and our children are worth investing in, instead of disinvesting by closing their schools,” Lewis said.
Susan Hurley, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, said people came out of their homes and cheered for the marchers along the route. And driver after driver honked their horns in support, she said.
“It’s been pretty moving just to march through neighborhoods and say, 'These are our schools,'” she said.
Here’s a look at the crowd making its way to Marconi: