CHICAGO—As students of the third-largest school district in the nation enter their second day of spring break, many of them are spending their vacation protesting the proposed closing of 54 Chicago public schools.
Last week, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced plans to close the schools, a move coming just six months after the first CTU strike in 25 years.
Parents, teachers and students shared their outrage with the proposal at a march to City Hall Monday and on the streets of Chicago.
“This is chaos. It’s a disaster that is in the works,” Brandon Johnson, a Chicago Teachers Union organizer, said as he and nearly 100 other opponents to school closings rallied outside of a South Side school slated for closing on Friday.
“CPS officials and the mayor continue to spew confusing propaganda as justification for closing schools,” CTU said in a statement Monday, in response to the closings and CPS revealing that it has a $1 billion annual deficit.
CPS says it needs to close several underutilized schools to save money and insists that the ultimate goal is to provide quality education for kids attending Chicago public schools.
“By consolidating underutilized schools we will be able to redirect those resources and move children safely to a higher-performing welcoming school that has all the things parents, teachers and CPS agree students need to thrive and succeed, such as a library, air conditioning, upgraded computer and science technology, and counseling and social support,” CPS said in a statement.
The schools planned for closure are in primarily lower-income, African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. CTU President Karen Lewis said at a news conference last week, “Since 2001, 88% of students impacted by CPS School Actions are African-American. And this is by design.”
Parents, the CTU and activists across the city say that closing schools will endanger students because they will be exposed to greater gang violence if they cross neighborhood boundaries.
“I’m concerned with my son walking to school. A gang war exists right now in this neighborhood,” said Marilyn Cooper, whose 6th grader’s South Side school, Marcus Garvey Elementary, is closing.
Mount Vernon Elementary, a rival school less than a mile down the street, will serve as its “welcoming” school. Parents with kids at both schools are concerned that students from two schools that have been rivals for years will not blend well in one building.
Other parents were concerned with sending their children to a school with lower standardized test scores and the possibility of larger class sizes.
At least one parent endorsed the school closure and consolidations idea. Sharday Martin, 25, who has a 2nd grader attending Mount Vernon Elementary, said she thinks the school closure is a good idea because more resources can be put into one school.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote recently that closing low-performing school programs is long overdue. She writes that of the 54 schools planned for closure, “The number is actually a fraction of the public schools that are being underutilized because so many black families have moved out of neighborhoods on the South and West sides.”
Mitchell continued, saying, “But to hear opponents tell it, closing schools is just another conspiracy to deny African-American children the right to be educated in their own neighborhoods.”
The Chicago Teachers Union, along with thousands of parents, educators, students, clergy, community organizations and members of labor unions, have planned a larger rally against school closings for Wednesday.
Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung