On the first day of spring break, a group of approximately 20 high school students marched to City Hall to deliver a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel today, announcing their opposition to last week’s announcement from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that 54 schools will be closed and another six are slated for turnaround.
“All CPS students are victims of this bad policy, because CPS is not listening to student voices,” said Israel Munoz, a senior at Thomas Kelly High School in Chicago’s West Side neighborhood of Brighton Park. “Shutting down public education anywhere in the city makes victims of students everywhere in the city.”
The student coalition, called the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS) marched to City Hall after a brief press conference at CPS Headquarters. Largely concerned with gang violence in neighborhoods slated for numerous closures, they each signed a letter written for Emanuel that spoke out against the impending school actions.
"We represent the thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools that will be directly affected by school closings," the letter reads.
For the disproportionate effect of school closings on minority communities — approximately 80 percent of students impacted are African-American — the letter calls the school closures a “racist decision.” The students demanded an elected school board, an immediate moratorium on school closings and the use of TIF funds for public education.
“Being a resident of Englewood helps me to understand the importance of education and also the consequences of mis-education; I see too many homeless people and gang-involved people on our streets because they don’t have an education,” said Brian Stirgus, a senior at Paul Robeson High School in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood of Englewood.
Stirgus, a graduate of Benjamin Banneker Elementary School, which is slated to be merged with Benjamin E. Mays Elementary Academy, said “danger lies ahead” for students who may now have to cross gang lines to get to school. He said because the two schools are on opposite sides of Halsted Street, students would be crossing gang territories.
“Innocent bystanders are always the ones to be hurt, so why potentially put kids in more danger by having them cross these gang lines,” he asked. “I know personally I was much safer as a student when I knew that I could go to a school that was less than five minutes from my house.”
Felicia Davis, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Public Engagement, politely received the students’ letter and noted she would deliver it to the mayor, but did not comment.
Here’s more from Munoz:
CPS is touting this wave of school closures as a cost-cutting initiative. According to district officials, CPS is targeting low-performing and underutilized schools as it faces a $1 billion deficit. The actions will allegedly save the district $560 million over the next decade.
The students plan to attend the Chicago Teachers Union rally at Daley Plaza, which is scheduled for this Wednesday, March 27, at 4 p.m.
Alexssa Moore, a senior at Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School in West Englewood on Chicago’s South Side, says she is scared for her 13-year-old, seventh grade brother who, although his school was spared from the final list of closures, has to walk to school.
“He has to walk to school every day by himself, and I couldn’t imagine what would happen to him if he had to travel even farther,” she said. Her brother attends Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School, which was included on CPS’ preliminary list of 129 schools slated for closure.
After 34 community meetings during which the district heard from some 20,000 residents, CPS whittled the list down to the 61 schools slated for action.
Calling CPS “short-sighted,” Moore listed four gangs offhand that had a presence in her neighborhood and said she couldn’t protect her brother all of the time.
“A bullet doesn’t have a name,” she said. “When it’s just him walking by himself, there’s no telling what could happen. These young kids crossing gang territories to get to school is unacceptable.”