At least two dozen protesters were arrested as the Chicago Teachers Union and its supporters wrapped up a 3-day protest calling for a moratorium on school closings in the nation’s third-largest school district.
Chants of “Hey Rahm, lets face it, school closures are racist,” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, no school closings. Save them all,” rang throughout City Hall’s main lobby Monday afternoon while workers and patrons weaved through protestors to make their way to their destinations in the building.
After a day of marching from the South and West sides of the city to Downtown Chicago, protestors who blocked off elevators on the main floor of City Hall were arrested, then cited for trespassing, according to Chicago Police officer Joshua Purkiss.
54 schools slated for closure
Ahead of a Wednesday vote by the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education, 54 schools have been slated for closure, which if approved, could be the largest mass school closing in the country.
“These school closures and all of these reforms in Chicago and in the nation are just budget cuts in disguise,” said Jeremy Peters, a teacher at Paul Roberson High School in Englewood.
As he took a lunch break, he said, ”They want to close down the most underutilized (schools) which is really a symptom of neighborhood health, rather than anything else, because these neighborhoods that they’re closing schools are suffering long-term issues from segregation, discrimination, home foreclosures.”
Fifty-three elementary schools and one high school, primarily in Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods, are planned for closure. Protesters contend it’s an attack on minorities and the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the city.
“This is a movement”
“We can all see what the consequences of their decisions are going to be and who will be affected by this. We already have a problem with excess of violence in these communities where schools are being closed,” said Michael Brunson, the newly re-elected recording secretary of Chicago Teachers Union. “One thing anyone can agree with is that this is an assault on vulnerable communities that they feel do not have enough political clout to stand up and defend themselves.”
Chicago public school officials have said the proposed closings are necessary to close underutilized schools and help the district close the gap of a $1 billion budget deficit. The system promises that displaced students will be sent to better-performing schools with better amenities like libraries, upgraded facilities and air conditioning.
Shortly after arrests Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis lead a rally at Daley Plaza where an historic Picasso sculpture stands. “This is a movement and no matter what happens on Wednesday, it is not over,” she told supporters.
Among other concerns including safety and children having to cross gang lines to attend new schools, protestors are also calling for an elected school board. The Chicago public school system functions under the control of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who selects the school board and the district’s chief executive officer.
Failing the kids
The union has sparred with Emanuel in the past over education issues and eight months ago held a seven-day strike for better conditions and pay. They also filed federal lawsuits last week to stop the school closings.
“We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child. And, yet these lawsuits demonstrate that union leadership is committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our kids,” Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement. “Thousands of children in underutilized schools are being cheated out of the resources they need to succeed. It’s time to give these children the opportunity to attend higher-performing welcoming schools and put them on a path to thrive.”
The Board will vote on the proposed school closings at Wednesday’s Board meeting and the Chicago Teachers Union are “planning on being in force,” according to vice president Jesse Sharkey.
Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung