Occupying Parents Win an Audience, but Chicago Schools Still Privatize
After parents occupied Chicago’s Brian Piccolo Elementary School February 17, they won a commitment from the school board to meet and discuss the “turnarounds” at Piccolo and a neighboring school—measures that would mean firing all the staff and handing the schools over to a private operator.
School board members met Monday with parents and community representatives involved in the occupation—but only via phone conferences, not in person.
The dialogue didn’t change the result: The school board voted Wednesday to approve 17 closures, turnarounds, and phase-outs.
Two days before the Wednesday vote, 500 people had marched and held a candlelight vigil at the mayor’s house to challenge the city’s plans for its schools.
Hundreds showed up at dawn Wednesday to get on the speakers’ list for the school board meeting where the school actions would be decided. Scores of parents, students, teachers, and community members addressed the board in two-minute allotments, overwhelmingly opposed to the privatizations.
Rev. Paul Jakes, president of the Christian Council on Urban Affairs, asked Chicago Public Schools to help defray the cost of funerals for the young people who will be killed after the school closures and phase-outs lead to gang violence.
Sixteen-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death in 2009 near Fenger High School in South Chicago, a death remembered well because community members had warned CPS that school closings would force transferred students to cross gang lines.
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Speakers reminded the board of school and community destabilization previous shake-ups produced, warning it will undoubtedly continue. Teachers and parents are working hard and collaborating to improve their schools, other speakers said, in spite of the district cutting programs and resources each year.
Activists have noted that many schools targeted for closure because of poor test scores spiraled downward when they started receiving students ousted from other closing schools.
The seven school board members and school chief Jean-Claude Brizard listened patiently to the presentations. After a closed executive session, the board returned, thanked the audience for their remarks, and approved the closures and turnarounds, along with three “co-locations” (where a charter school takes over a portion of a public school). The audience booed and chanted “rubber stamp!” as they exited the hearing room.
Activists said the board issued a 2,000-word press release one minute after the decision.
In a post-meeting press conference, community organizer Jitu Brown—who also serves on the school council at Dyett High School, one of the schools that will be phased out—pointed out that the city is moving backwards, toward greater segregation, in its school policies. Brown announced that a lawsuit has been filed challenging the school board's actions as a violation of both the Illinois school code and a state law outlawing discrimination.
In addition, community groups and the Chicago Teachers Union have been working with state legislators to push a bill that would impose a one-year moratorium on school closures and turnarounds in Chicago.
Brown said Chicago must return to an elected school board, a demand echoed by parent, union, and community groups recently. The city's schools have operated under mayoral control since 1995.