Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chicago Mobilizes Against Massive School Closings

Hundreds protest school closings in Chicago: ‘It’s not over’

Meredith Clark, @MeredithLClark
8:15 PM on 03/27/2013

Teachers, parents, students, and union members gathered in downtown Chicago Wednesday to protest the city’s proposal to close 54 public schools. If the Chicago Board of Education approves the plan, it will be the largest school shutdown in the country. The demonstration came after nearly a week of protests and is only the latest in an extended battle between the Chicago Teachers’ Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Hundreds of people gathered in Daley Plaza, where CTU President Karen Lewis spoke to the crowd and hinted at the union’s plans to fight the city’s plan. “We’ll file the lawsuits.

We’ll talk to our elected officials. We will do all that, but we cannot do it ourselves. We need you to be in the streets, the courts, wherever you think you need to be. Do not let this moment pass you by.” Three public hearings are currently scheduled for April, and the board of education will vote on the proposed closings in May.

Lewis also introduced Alexssa Moore, a student with Chicago Students Organizing to Save our Schools. “You don’t know how it feels,” Moore said. “Rahm doesn’t know what goes on in these neighborhoods. You don’t sit down to talk to us and find out what’s really going on.” Moore, who lost a brother to violence, also spoke about the fact that many of the students being relocated will have to travel through rival gang territory without adequate safety precautions. “Y’all say education is the future, so why’re you trying to limit what we’ve already got,” she said.

The Chicago Public Schools plan would disproportionately affect students of color; of the 30,000 or so children set to be affected by the closures, 90% are non-white. As Lewis said on March 21, “most of these campuses are in the black community. Since 2001, 88% of students impacted by CPS School Actions are African-American. And this is by design.”

“Rahm Emanuel has become the ‘murder mayor,’” Lewis continued. “He is murdering public services. Murdering our ability to maintain public sector jobs and now he has set his sights on our public schools.”

Tensions between Mayor Emanuel’s administration and public school and community advocates have been high since he took office in May 2011 and began an aggressive campaign to expand the city’s charter school network and force unions to make contract concessions. According to the mayor and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Barrett, the school closures are necessary to close a $1 billion budget deficit and to better utilize space. The CTU pointed out that the city is planning to make improvements to schools set to receive displaced students that could cost some $700 million.

The march started in Daley Plaza and moved to City Hall and then to the Board of Education building, where barricades had been erected the day before the rally.

Protesters staged a sit-down protest in front of CPS headquarters, where police officers walked through the crowd with video cameras before they began arresting people for obstructing traffic.

Earlier this month, the teachers’ union co-sponsored civil disobedience trainings to prepare for this standoff. CTU also released a memo Wednesday that had been sent to school principals urging them to “observe and report” on any teacher activities that might appear to advocate for civil disobedience. Wednesday’s march was peaceful, although one speaker at the rally urged attendees to support the students and parents who were prepared to face arrest for civil disobedience, and dozens of protesters linked arms and sat in the streets.

CTU President Lewis emphasized the importance of attending April’s public hearings. “Why are we going through this sham of hearings if it’s all over?” she asked.

“It’s not over, brothers and sisters, until you say it’s over.”

Protesters March Against Chicago School Closures

By SARA BURNETT Associated Press

Hundreds of teachers, parents and other opponents marched through downtown Wednesday, vowing to fight a plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's comments that he's done negotiating and the closings are essentially a done deal.

Emanuel and schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett say the nation's third-largest district must close dozens of schools because CPS faces a $1 billion budget shortfall and has too many schools that are half-empty and failing academically.

At a rally before the march, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called the closings "injustices" and said lawsuits are planned. Other speakers called for state and federal lawmakers to intervene.

"There are many ways that you can show that this is not over," Lewis told the protesters, whose march filled the street and stretched a full city block. "On the first day of school you show up at your real school. Don't let these people take your school."

Stopping in front of City Hall, the protesters chanted "Save our Schools" and called for Emanuel's ouster. More than 100 people who had planned to be arrested sat down in the middle of the street, where they continued chanting until police cleared them from the area and issued citations.

Retired teacher Gloria Warner, 62, was among those sitting arm-in-arm with other protesters in the roadway, which was blocked off to rush hour traffic.

"We need the mayor and CPS to invest in our schools, not take them away," the grandmother of two CPS students said. "We need our schools for the safety of our children."

A group of Chicago ministers also went to City Hall on Wednesday to deliver a letter asking Emanuel to halt the plan.

CPS and the mayor say the closings will save the district $560 million over 10 years in capital costs and an additional $43 million per year in operating costs. About 30,000 students — almost all of them in Kindergarten to eighth grade — would be affected.

At a press conference on an unrelated topic Wednesday, the mayor said he and Byrd-Bennett already are working out how to carry through on a pledge that every child who is moved ends up at a higher quality school. He said the closings already have been delayed too long.

"Keeping open a school that is falling short year-in and year-out means we haven't done what we are responsible for; not what our parents did for us and what we owe every child in the city of Chicago," Emanuel said.

Critics say the closings disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will uproot kids who need a stable and familiar environment in which to learn. They also worry that students will have to cross gang lines to get to a new school, and that the vacated buildings will be blight on already struggling communities.

Jonathan Hollingsworth III, a lunchroom manager at CPS, said he's also concerned that the plan will leave hundreds of workers jobless. He said he voted for Emanuel but won't do so again.

"He's downsizing everything in the damn city. It's take it or leave it," Hollingsworth said. "Keep this in mind: Come election time, all of these people will have the last laugh."

Opponents of the plan will get another chance to argue their case at a series of public meetings that will be scheduled in coming weeks, though the Chicago Board of Education — whose members are all appointed by Emanuel — is expected to approve the closings in late May.

The closings would take effect beginning at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Published on WBEZ 91.5 Chicago (

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Crowds descend on downtown Chicago to protest school closings, union says 150 arrested

March 27, 2013

Organizers say about 150 people have been arrested at a rally protesting Chicago Public Schools' proposal to close 54 schools.

A group including teacher union officials, parents, janitors, lunch ladies and ministers sat down in front of City Hall. Police asked each individual to leave. When they refused, police led them away.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis asked for people to show up at the beginning of the academic year at their original school, ignoring CPS' proposal.

The Chicago Police Department could not confirm the number arrested.

Prior to the protest, the CTU has been training parents, teachers and community organizations in civil disobedience and says it’s prepared for 150 people to be arrested today. A Facebook announcement for the rally warns, “They want to shut down our schools, we’ll shut down the city.”

Lewis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to the crowd, calling the closings a land grab and an attempt to privatize the school system.

CPS says closing the schools would mean more resources for students and improvements for schools.

Chicago’s pubic schools are out for spring break this week, leaving students and teachers free to join in the rush-hour rally, which was organized by the teachers union and a coalition of other unions and community groups.

The rally is slated to began at 4 p.m. at Daley Plaza. Marchers are scheduled to wind past City Hall and the school district’s headquarters at 125 S. Clark, where things were expected to wrap up around 6 p.m.

Chicago Public Schools erected barricades Monday outside its headquarters. A spokeswoman said that’s common practice in situations where the district gets advance word of a protest.

Chicago Public Schools is also preparing principals for acts of civil disobedience at their schools, though not necessarily today. A memo sent to principals at closing schools lists lockdowns, walk-outs, sit-ins and “Occupy” actions as possibilities. It outlines “overall guidelines for the prevention of civil disobedience” and suggests principals “be approachable and supportive to feelings of unrest, anxiety, or dissatisfaction.” It also instructs principals to “observe and report all information regarding possible protestors, locations, dates and times,” and to note which community organizations or news organizations are present.

In addition to closing 53 elementary schools and one small high school, the district wants to completely re-staff six additional elementary schools. It is also proposing 23 schools share 11 buildings beginning next fall; some of those are new schools that will just be opening.

The district says closing the 54 schools will offer students a better education because it will allow scarce resources to be spread across fewer schools. Many of the schools slated for closure have fewer than 300 students. For the first time in more than a decade of school closings, CPS is saying it will put significant money into receiving schools, promising students air conditioning, libraries with new books, “learning gardens” and iPads, along with social workers and counselors to help students adjust.

The teachers union has said it wants no schools closed, and parents at the individual schools slated for consolidation have brought up their own concerns, from longer walks to school in winter weather to fear for their children crossing into rival gang territory.

Earlier this month in Philadelphia, 19 activists were arrested at a meeting where the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to close 23 schools; the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, was among those arrested. The Chicago Teachers Union says Weingarten, who appeared at rallies here during the teachers strike in September, is not expected to be in Chicago today.

Linda Lutton is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

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