In an historic decision, the Chicago Public School Board of Education voted to close 50 neighborhood schools, four less than had previously proposed. The board’s decision is the first time that a US school district has shut down so many schools at once. The board’s decision, which came after months of community organizing to keep the school open, was met with derision and defiance by those who fought to protect the schools from closing.
“The Board of Education is pathetic,” said Wendy Katten, executive director of Raise Your Hand, a pro-public education group of parents, students, and education activists to Progress Illinois. “They’re going to have to reap the consequences of this; this will go down in history as a bad decision.”
“Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “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.”
Lewis said that the board’s decision will have a “horrible domino effect” and that “more than 40,000 students will lose at least three to six months of learning because of the board’s actions.”
“Because many of them will now have to travel into new neighborhoods to continue their schooling, some will be victims of bullying, physical assault and other forms of violence,” said Lewis. “Board members are wishing for a world that does not exist and have ignored the reality of the world we live in today. Who on the board will be held responsible? Who at City Hall will be held responsible?”
Lewis said that the board’s decision did not mean that the fight to keep the schools open is over; it only means that the battleground has shifted.
“Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box,” said Lewis.
The day after the board’s ruling, a federal judge set July 16 as the date that he will start hearing evidence from plaintiffs who have filed suit charging that the closures discriminate against African-American and special needs students.
Two days after the board’s decision. CTU held the first of a series of voter registration and education workshops. At the workshops, 150 rank and file CTU members, community activists, and other public education supporters received training to become volunteer voter registrars.
“Brothers and sisters, mayoral control is a disaster,”said Lewis to those at the workshop. “We must change the conversation, so we must change the political landscape.”
In one sense, Lewis was talking about the need to build a grassroots movement capable of defeating Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who appointed all six members of board, at the polls, but the movement envisioned by Lewis goes beyond that.
“We must resist this neoliberal savagery masquerading as school reform, ” said Lewis in response to board’s decision. “We must resist racism in all of its forms as well as the escalating attacks on the working class and the poor. Our movement will continue.”
For more than a decade now, Chicago’s business elite have seen the problems in Chicago’s public schools as an opportunity to privatize public education. Groups such as the Chicago Public Education Fund, which is chaired by Hyatt heiress and recent US Secretary of Commerce nominee Penny Pritzker, have sought to make Chicago “the epicenter of for-profit, technology-enabled education entrepreneurship and investment.”
In the past they have succeeded in closing schools and replacing them with privately operated charter schools. The results have been under whelming.
One of the charter school systems that has been supported by the Chicago Public Education Fund is the Academy for Urban School Learning, which operates 12 charter schools that were supposed to turn around public schools that were labeled as underperforming.
According to Curtis Black, “ten of them are on academic probation today. Only one of them is rated as Level 1 — “high performing” — by CPS (Chicago Public Schools).”
“Members of the Board of Education, the school CEO, the mayor, and their corporate backers are on the wrong side of history,” said Lewis. “History will judge them for the tragedy they have inflicted upon our students; and it will not be kind.”