The Chicago Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday, Feb. 22, to close 17 Chicago Public Schools
following hours of emotional testimony urging the board to do otherwise.
The board views the decision as an opportunity to help 7,500 students in the low-performing schools.
CPS Headquarters. Image via Wikipedia
The board’s decision came just hours after an emotionally charged public hearing where the 70 parents, teachers, local school council reps and other community members urged the board to keep their schools open.
CPS board member Dr. Mahalia Hines tried to explain the board’s decision. Board members said the closings and turnarounds are necessary because the schools did not show enough improvement and they wanted to help the students, ABC reported Wednesday.
“We have created a climate when mediocrity is okay for our kids,” Hines said. “It’s not okay with me. I don’t care if I was appointed or elected. As I’ve said before, my constituents are the kids.”
The teacher’s union disagrees and has filed a lawsuit to stop the board’s actions.
“It is not the teachers, parents and community that have failed our students, it is this district,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Lewis accused the board of turning a deaf ear to the teachers and families who will be affected by the closings and turnarounds when it comes to enforcing policy changes. She asked the board to consider the other reform options championed by parents and teachers over the past year.
Besides the teachers union lawsuit, there’s also an Illinois House bill making its way through the legislature introduced by state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) that would place a one-year moratorium on Chicago school closings and turnarounds.
“This is a new (CPS) administration,” said Soto. “They really have to get to know these communities before they start to take school actions. Some of the schools they’ve proposed are performing and should not be targeted.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., a veteran of Chicago school conflicts, was the first to speak in front of the board at the beginning of what turned into nearly three hours of public comments.
Jackson pointed out that there are disparities between selective enrollment schools like Walter Payton College Prep and the to-be-closed Orr High, or between Whitney Young and Walter Dyett High School.
“This is educational apartheid,” Jackson said.
Chicago Schools Chief Jean-Claude Brizard responded to criticism Thursday to Fox News Chicago, saying the turnarounds are going to help schools, which were selected for underperformance.
“This program you see in the schools will be looked at to see what’s working, what’s not working. Keep some, get rid of others. The vast majority of schools are not closing, we’re just sending them somewhere else,” Brizard said.
Brizard also denied advocates’ charge that turnarounds are due to misallocation of resources.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about what has been happening in those schools. The fact is those schools have been resourced appropriately. Some are getting a lot of discretionary funding. One of the schools was top five in the city in terms of per-pupil spending. A lot of money is going to the result. Bottom line, we want to change things to make it work for studentsm” Brizard said.
Advocates said the schools on the shut-down list have been starved of resources and administrators did not involve the community in the decision-making process.
“It’s a process that looks like democracy, but it isn’t. If they had talked to the teachers, visited the community, then some of these schools wouldn’t be on the list. But this is the administration’s agenda,” said Kristine Mayle, CTU’s financial secretary.