PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday May 20th, 2013, 5:06pm

Education Activists Take School Closing Fight To City Hall (VIDEO)

A few hundred education activists kicked off the last day of the Chicago Teachers Union's three-day march against school closings at William J. & Charles H. Mayo Elementary School Monday morning. Education activists also delivered a petition calling for a moratorium on school closings to City Hall this afternoon. Progress Illinois was there for the actions. 

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A few hundred education activists kicked off the last day of the Chicago Teachers Union's (CTU) three-day march against school closings at William J. & Charles H. Mayo Elementary School Monday morning.

Mayo students were expected to come out of the school for a performance that was set to include singing, dancing and drumming. The students did not come outside, however, because Chicago Public Schools officials shut down the event, said CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson.

Under CPS’ plan, Mayo is slated to close and Ida B Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy would take over the school in June. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on various school actions Wednesday.

A Mayo student-led balloon launch was also scheduled for Monday morning, but CPS shut that down as well, according to Brunson.

“We were all going to be part of that, but suddenly, we come here and find out the whole thing has been shut down from the top ... of CPS,” Brunson told Progress Illinois outside Mayo school. “I feel as though there is a bit of intimidation going on in here, and I’m concerned that there is some intimidation going on of our members also.”

Brunson said the proposed school closings are unplanned, arbitrary and capricious. The plan also has consequences, he added.

“It hurts the people that have to deal with your decisions — the students, the parents the community,” Brunson said. “They are being affected by these decisions, and right now they need the support of the community and everyone around them to show them that you’re still alright, you’re still OK, and we’re going to be here with you.”

He said that is exactly what the activists wanted to do for the Mayo students this morning, but CPS squashed the event.

The gathering at Mayo school was one of many actions happening across the city today, and over the weekend, as part of the “Our City. Our Schools. Our Voice” three-day march for education.

In addition to the marches, education activists also delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures in support of a one-year moratorium on school closings to City Hall this afternoon.

More than 20 protesters were taken into custody by Chicago police for blocking City Hall elevators and chanting. The arrests took place about an hour after activists held a press conference on the fifth floor regarding the petition. A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said arrests were made at City Hall, but did not provide additional details on the exact number of those arrested or the charges they may face.

Marchers from the South Side and West Side marches are meeting up at Daley Plaza for a massive rally against CPS' proposed school action plan.

Debby Pope, a CTU organizer, said marchers walked about 18 miles on Saturday and Sunday combined.

“I can show you the blisters if you need,” she said. “That is absolutely just an example of the kind of sacrifice [being made by those who are against the CPS closings]. We want our children not to be sacrificed, so therefore, whatever we do is for the future of the kids.”

And although the board will vote on the proposal this Wednesday, the fight is not over, Pope stressed.

 “We feel we’re fighting for our children. We’re fighting for who controls our city. We’re fighting for the future of African-American and Latino children in our city, for the future of poor children,” she said. “We’re not (going to) just accept what the mayor decrees.”

Jeanette Taylor, an Irvin C. Mollison Elementary School parent, called CPS a “bully” after learning Mayo’s program was cancelled.

“Those principals are in the union, and so are those teachers, and those union reps should be raising all type of holy stuff,” Taylor said. “You do not intimidate the people and take their voice away from them.”

She said both students and activists have a right to demonstrate and march.

“You don’t tell people what they can and cannot do,” Taylor added. “It’s wrong.”

Anthony Williams, a Mayo parent, said his children practiced their dance moves over and over again only to see today’s event cancelled.

He said he is “disgusted” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS’ plan to close down a record-breaking number of neighborhood schools. He said the leaders of the school system allege that CPS is broke, but at the same time, city officials announce expensive projects in other parts of the city.

“You’re going to take $115 million and build up Navy Pier, but you can’t spend a thousand dollars on a school,” Williams noted.

Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative, was one of a handful of community activists who descended on City Hall this afternoon to deliver the petition calling for a moratorium on school closings.

She said it's “ironic” that Emanuel cannot find the money to keep the schools open. This past week Emanuel announced more than $100 million in public financing for the DePaul University stadium, Patel said, adding that she has coined it the “Rahm arena.”

“Clearly there is money, there’s just a lack of will, and there’s a lack of priorities that actually meet the needs of working families in this city,” she said at City Hall.

Money needs to go into South and West Side, low-income neighborhoods that are being “disinvested at alarming rates,” she said. 

Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) said school board members can vote how they wish Wednesday.

“But if you want to see hundreds of law abiding parents and students go to jail, do whatever we have to do to make sure that our children stay in their schools, in their own community, then so be it,” Brown warned.

Brown called on Illinois lawmakers in Springfield to pass a measure that would put a temporary moratorium on school closings in Chicago. The bills are HB 3283, sponsored by State Rep. Elgie Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago), and SB 1571, sponsored by State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago). (Read Progress Illinois’ report on how the school closing moratorium bill got kicked down the road here).

"Springfield gave the mayor this power over our schools, they can take it away,” he said. “They can remedy their mistake, and they can take it away.”

Here’s more from Brown:

Taylor also had a message for the mayor and other Illinois elected officials.

“Either you vote for a moratorium on school closings and for this elected school board, or be prepared to leave those seats,” she said.

Ronald Boy, 62, a New City resident, graduated from Mayo when he was in sixth grade. He pointed to a school window above Mayo's main entrance that used to be his classroom when he was a student. He said he wanted to stand in solidarity with the children that currently attend Mayo school.

“The students are me,” Boy said.

Nia Colton, a CTU member, also spoke with Progress Illinois while at Mayo school. She raised concerns about the impact vacant school buildings will have on neighborhood crime:

From Mayo, the education activists marched to Williams Multiplex Elementary School, which shares a building with Williams Preparatory Academy Middle School and the Urban Prep Academy for Young Men Bronzeville campus. CPS wants Williams’ elementary and middle schools to close in June and John B. Drake Elementary take over the building.

The marchers gathered in the grass near the school’s baseball field chanting, “We need teachers. We need books. We need the money that Rahm took.”

A few busloads of students from other schools, such as Albert G. Lane Technical, Theodore Roosevelt and Kelvyn Park high schools, arrived at Williams just before noon to stand in solidarity with the marchers.

Robert Allen, an eighth grader on the Williams Prep student council, said it is not fair that Williams' elementary and middle schools are slated to close.

“We [currently] have 120 students, and we only have four homerooms for Williams Prep,” Allen said. “Urban Prep wants six more classrooms next year, but we barely have space as it is now.”

Back at City Hall, Patel also noted that every year, more than $250 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, money gets siphoned away from schools and awarded to “corporate fat cats” downtown.

“Our families are leaving every day, because we can’t afford to stay here, because we don’t have the investments in our neighborhoods to keep our neighborhoods strong, and where’s the priority of that," she asked. "Where’s the priority of our families and our children?”

The education activists at City Hall also called on Wall Street banks, such as Bank of America, to renegotiate pricey interest-rate swaps on loans made during the recession, which costs CPS about $36 million a year, Patel said.

Emanuel has said closing schools is a difficult decision, Patel noted. But for Emanuel, the real tough choice is asking his “corporate buddies" to pay their fair share, she said.

“The tough choice is to actually make sure that our tax money goes to our neighborhoods and into our schools instead of being used against our neighborhoods and our schools,” she said.

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