A group of neighborhood organizations are holding a candlelight vigil this afternoon to protest proposed Chicago Public Schools closings and turnarounds.
Meanwhile, the Humboldt Park community group Blocks Together will talk this evening with two Board of Education officials regarding the turnarounds of Casals and Piccolo elementary schools.
The actions are part of a scramble by neighborhood groups, the Chicago Teachers Union, parents and Local School Councils to stop the Board of Education from voting to approve 17 school closings or turnarounds at its Wednesday meeting.
Shannon Bennett, an organizer at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, helped organize the vigil and says it is “a solemn activity and one last attempt to reason” with both the seven-member Board and the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Bennett, though, is not sure what any more vigils, school sit-ins, and actions inside City Hall and CPS headquarters can accomplish in addition to raising public awareness. “They are not listening,” Bennett said of CPS and the mayor.
Bennett added that if the Board of Education does approve these school actions, he will likely focus on a lawsuit filed by Local School Council members with a Cook County judge to effectively stop the actions.
Meanwhile, Blocks Together is both participating in the vigil and speaking with Board officials about the fates of Casals and Piccolo elementary schools. The community group staged a sit-in of Piccolo over the weekend – the demonstration ended when Board of Education Vice-President Jesse Ruiz paid a visit and promised a subsequent meeting between Blocks Together and more officials from the seven-member board.
“The purpose of the occupation was to have a real engagement with CPS over Casals and Piccolo,” says Cecile Carole, a director of Blocks Together. “If we had not done the occupation, we would not have had a real discussion with the Board of Education before the vote Wednesday.”
Carole says that Ruiz acknowledged the Board of Education could have done more to get community input. A call to the Board of Education was not returned.
As to what to specifically would be discussed regarding the turnarounds – where students stay at the school, but teachers and the principal get replaced – Carole says one point of contention is the fact that the principals at both schools have only been on the job for a year. Also, Blocks Together says they previously submitted a proposal to CPS to improve Piccolo and Casals, and that CPS ignored the proposal until Saturday.
Both Carole and Bennett argue that their series of protests are the result of Emanuel, the board, and CPS not taking their meeting requests seriously. “We have done our diligence in trying to meet with the city,” Bennett says.