Parents, teachers, clergy, and community members in Chicago announced that they plan to hold Civil Rights era style marches on three days beginning May 18 to protest the proposed closure of 54 neighborhood schools by Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
During the three days, simultaneous marches beginning from the city’s South and West sides will wind their way past many of the schools proposed for closings.
Those participating in the marches, whose theme is Our City. Our Schools. Our Voice., say that the proposed school closures will further destabilize neighborhoods already facing serious challenges.
These schools are in neighborhoods where unemployment is high and that have suffered high rates of home and business foreclosures. According to the Chicago Teachers Union, the crime rates in these neighborhoods have also increased since Mayor Rahm Emmanuel took office.
“The devastation that the neighborhood schools faced came long before the latest list of school closures came down the pipeline,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, one of the groups organizing the marches.
Critics also say that Mayor Emmanuel and leaders of Chicago Public Schools have ignored the concerns of those most directly affected by the proposed closures.
“Despite the testimony of thousands of parents, teachers and people who work and living in the school communities impacted, Rahm Emanuel is dedicated to entering the history books as having destroyed the most public schools in one year than anyone in history,” said Lewis. “He refuses to listen to independent judges, law enforcement officials, educators, researchers, and the students themselves. We have no choice but to use power of organizing to engage in what will be a long fight to restore sanity to our school district.”
The marches are being organized by the Chicago Teachers Union, Grassroots Education Movement, SEIU Local 1, UNITE HERE Local 1, and PEACE, a citywide coalition of religious leaders.
The Chicago school board on May 22 will vote on the closure proposal.
The proposal to close the schools comes on the heels of the school board’s announcement that it plans to greatly expand the number of charter schools.
School board CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that there is no connection between the closures and the expansion of charter schools, but Curtis Black reports that staff of the independent commission that gathered information that led to the closing proposal work for the Civic Consulting Alliance, which Black says is “an offshoot of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club,” which has been advising the school board on charter school expansion.
The closures also threaten to undermine some of the progress that has been made toward improving the schools in low-income neighborhoods.
Schools with new computer and technology centers, innovative music and arts programs, full-day pre-school programs, and other programs that improve learning opportunities for children in these neighborhoods will be closed.
If the closings take place, students at the closed schools will have to travel outside their neighborhoods to new schools, which can be quite dangerous. At a recent demonstration to keep one of the schools open, parents held a march that took them past four gang and drug-sale locations. They also passed the site where a college student was shot and killed last week.
At the news conference announcing the marches to protest the proposed closures, Lewis explained why its necessary for teachers, parents, students, and community members to come together to fight the closures.
“School closings hurt children academically and the mayor’s plan will also put thousands of students’ safety at risk and many public school employees may lose their jobs,” Lewis said. “We must do whatever is necessary to stop this assault on the working class and the poor. In the midst of getting angry, we must organize. We want to tell Emanuel, the board, the school CEO, and their corporate sponsors that this is our city, these are our schools, and we will use our voice to fight for justice.”