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CPS Approves Mass School Closures Against Will of Parents, Community

5/23/2013

Despite the outcries and impassioned pleas from parents, students, teachers, and community groups, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) appointed school board voted on May 22 to close 50 neighborhood schools – 49 elementary schools and one high school. The mass closure is the largest in U.S. history and will negatively impact the education of 40,000 students, including large numbers with special needs.

In a public statement after the vote, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen GJ Lewis said,

“Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago. Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children. Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy.”

IFT President Dan Montgomery issued the following statement as well:
"Chicago is known for being a world-class city, the city that works.  But a city that doesn't provide for all its children does not work. This is not the Chicago we know. The unelected CPS board should have listened to the overwhelming chorus of parents, teachers, students, and community members crying out to protect their neighborhood schools.  IFT members who work in communities across Illinois believe earnestly that it's their neighborhood schools that make their communities strong. We shouldn't take that opportunity away from Chicago's own children.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said – and CPS school chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett echoed last night -- 'the time is always right to do what is right.' We couldn't agree more. Though she was quoting Dr. King to defend disrupting the lives of more than 40,000 students, we would encourage her to heed her own advice. It's never too late to do the right thing. It's not too late to listen to the people of Chicago and reconsider this massive and dangerous decision."

The six-member board, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, voted unanimously to approve the mass closures. The CTU, parents, students, and community groups have held numerous protests and marches in recent days in an effort to stop the closures and make their voices heard. They repeatedly cited serious concerns about student safety and transportation, academic and social disruption, and lack of special needs resources that will likely arise as many thousands of children are uprooted from established neighborhood schools to travel further distances, often through violent neighborhoods, to get to their new schools. A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed that most parents oppose the closures, particularly Hispanic and African American parents, where the impact would be felt most.

Emanuel and the appointed board insist that the closures are needed to better utilize school buildings and limited education resources.

Chicago Sun-Times column published after the vote questioned the closures and made an appeal for an elected school board:

But as a whole, this appointed school board is not truly representative of the community.

And more important, they’re not accountable to anyone except the guy who appointed them — the mayor, whose desired end result on the issue of school closings drove the process.

[…]

“The time is always right to do what is right,” Byrd-Bennett would later say of the 50 schools being closed, using a quotation from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to defend a policy decision that I can’t imagine King would have favored.
King would have been more likely to lead a campaign for an elected school board.

The CTU and Chicago parents have filed separate lawsuits to stop the closures, and Lewis has vowed to continue the efforts to prevent them.

“Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box. The parents are amazing leaders in their school communities and because of this administration’s actions we have all become closer and more united….Our movement will continue.”

Related links:
CTU President Karen Lewis’ statement 
AFT President Randi Weingarten’s statement

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