Moratorium on school closing proposed for 2009-2010

Feb. 24, 2009 – Chicago Public Schools' plan to close, phase out and turnaround up to 16 schools next year could be stopped under legislation being considered by the Illinois General Assembly. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the list of school closures was lowered from 22 to 16 Monday by new Schools CEO Ron Huberman.

"This sudden interruption of children's education is not fair," said Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), who introduced House Bill 363 on Jan. 30 (as reported in a previous story by Curtis Black of Community Media Workshop), after learning two schools in her West side district could be closed.

If passed by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, the bill could face a vote in the 118-member House in two or three weeks, said Soto.

Soto said she was forced to introduce the measure after CPS officials broke an agreement they had made with her and other lawmakers in 2007.

A CPS official, however, said the Board of Education had not violated the school closing policy, giving all schools a 6-month notice that they were being considered for closure.

"We briefed Rep. Soto about the proposed school closings in late December," said José Alvarez, executive director at the CPS Office of Local School Council and Community Relations."We're reviewing bill 363 and how it may affect our policies," said Alvarez, "but we fully implemented the school closing policy."

According to Soto, the current school closing policy was drafted in spring 2007, after she received a call from CPS CEO Arne Duncan asking her to drop a school-closing moratorium bill she was working on. Duncan, who's now the U.S. Education Secretary, and Soto agreed that a panel of experts would meet on a regular basis with CPS officials before any closure decisions were made.

"I met with Duncan, and he was very courteous. We started meeting with CPS on a regular basis," said Soto. "But now they have violated the agreement by not letting us know in advance about school closings. They feel like no one should be telling them what to do."

Some of the schools being examined by CPS would be facing a phase out period without introducing new kindergarten or first grade classes. Other schools will undergo turnarounds that will change their staff and leadership. Five schools face an immediate closure this summer. Two of these, Carpenter elementary and Peabody, are in Soto's district. Peabody was one of the six recently spared from closing by Huberman Monday.

The final decision on the remaining 16 school closings is expected to be approved at the Feb. 25th Chicago Schools' Board of Education meeting.

"We have been proposed for a phase-out," said Dwayne Pitts, assistant principal at Carpenter Elementary School, 1250 W. Erie St.

If the phase-out were to be approved, Carpenter would stop opening new kindergarten and pre-K classes but would keep providing classes for its current students all throughout eighth grade.

"Technically, CPS says we have a poor student/teacher ratio," said Pitts, "but that depends on how you see the issue. Our student/ teacher is 12 to 15 students per teacher; meanwhile, CPS says a regular class should have a 31 to 1 ratio. Research has proven that smaller classes provide a better teaching environment.

"We're very frustrated," said Pitts.

Staff and faculty at Peabody Elementary met with about 70 people on Feb. 9th to discuss the proposed school closure.

"To be honest, I had a feeling the school might soon close," said Maria Reyes, Peabody's school clerk. CPS wants to close the school because it uses less than 40 percent of its space.

"The community here in West Town is rapidly changing and people are moving out," said Reyes. "The community is not involved in the school anymore because the people moving in are sending their children to other schools. Our situation started changing in 2003, when this gentrification process started."

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