PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday March 22nd, 2013, 7:49pm

Education Advocates, Parents & Teachers Fight Back Against CPS School Actions

About a dozen Parents 4 Teachers members braved the bitter cold late this afternoon outside City Hall to protest the Chicago Public Schools’ announcement yesterday that it would shutter 54 schools and turnaround another six, impacting about 30,000 students. Progress Illinois was there for the "Banner Day" event.

About a dozen Parents 4 Teachers members braved the bitter cold late this afternoon outside City Hall to protest the Chicago Public Schools’ announcement yesterday that it would shutter 54 schools and turnaround another six, impacting about 30,000 students.

Some protestors toted signs and banners reading “School Closings = One Term Mayor” while others passed out literature to passerby’s and cheered when cars honked at them. Those at the “banner day” said it was one of many actions planned in order to raise visibility around the issue of school closures.

“We want the parents, teachers, students and the communities where the schools are being closed to know that they’re not alone, that there are people across the city, even people like us whose schools are not being closed, who care about them, who care about this issue and are willing to get out and stand out in the cold and fight to keep these schools open,” said Parents 4 Teachers founder Erica Clark.

The group wants to spread awareness to Chicagoans who may not think school closings directly impact them, Clark added.

“This is our city, our schools,” she explained. “What happens in these neighborhoods impacts us all, and we all need to take a stand and say this is not OK.”

Julie Fain, a Rogers Park parent with two children in CPS, said the district is yet again destabilizing Chicago’s schools.

“CPS has consistently underfunded, under-resourced our schools, has been attacking them for years, and this is a pretty horrific piece of that,” Fain said. “But I think it’s been going on for a long time, and we want to see it ended. We want to see neighborhood schools funded.”

CPS considers Rogers Park’s schools underutilized where Fain lives, but “at the same time they open a huge charter school, an UNO charter school, that we know has corrupt practices; it's undemocratic,” she said.

“I think CPS is intentionally underutilizing our schools, if you want to call it that, by opening private charters that are not accountable, are using public money but act as private entities, and I feel like we see the same kinds of things at work all over the city, even though the crisis is felt most acutely in low-income, black and Latino neighborhoods,” Fain said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are not in the process of improving schools, they are in the process of privatizing them, said retired CPS teacher Tina Beacock, who held a banner reading “Zero School Closings!”

Emanuel was reportedly on vacation in Utah for a family ski trip yesterday when CPS broke the news about closing a total of 61 school buildings.

“Education needs to be seen as a right of all the children in the country, particularly in Chicago, and Rahm has made it his business to turn it into a private piggy bank for the charter companies,” Babcock said. “It’s just wrong.”

Beacock is a displaced history and Spanish teacher who was pushed out of DuSable High School in Bronzeville when three new schools moved into it as part of the Renaissance 2010 Initiative. One of the three schools that came to the high school was a charter.

“Because of the way placement goes, I was never hired again,” she said “It was just too demoralizing to watch the disintegration of the schools and the total lack of respect for teachers.”  

CPS recommended in February that the Betty Shabazz Charter School in the DuSable Campus be closed at the end of the school year because of low test scores.

“If you don’t change the underlying conditions that the children need to learn, you’re not going to do anything about their achievement or about their scores,” Beacock said.

She called the school closings “criminal” and plans to take part in the massive Chicago Teachers Union rally set to take place downtown at 4 p.m. on March 27.

Another big concern of the demonstrators was the fate of the closed school buildings.

“It’s very harmful to a community,” said Fain. “You see with foreclosures that boarded up buildings anywhere devalue people’s property, but also just demoralize a community. When you feel like there’s no investment, you feel like nobody cares, you feel like you’ve kind of been abandoned.”

She said the buildings CPS has closed in previous years are now sitting empty, boarded up and not locked.

“They’re not taken care of,” Fain added. “They’re eyesores.”

Also today, there was a walkout at Ryerson Elementary school in the city's North Side neighborhood of Humboldt Park. About 15 parents protested plans to close the school and reopen the building as the Laura S. Ward school, bringing in the Garfield Park students who currently attend that school in another facility. 

Parents are concerned that combining the Ryerson and Ward schools could lead to gang violence or student scuffles.

"A lot of people from Ryerson and Laura Ward, they like get into it and then end up fighting," Ryerson seventh grader Gerald Taylor told DNAInfo.com. "That's why most people are talking they might transfer because who would want to fight everyday? Everyday you come to school, you got to fight."

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