The West Side leg of the Chicago Teachers Union's (CTU) three-day march against school closings saw dozens of parents, teachers and education activists blocking traffic throughout the area's streets Monday, chanting “Save Our Schools!”
“We are marching to keep our schools open,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the CTU, at the launch of Monday’s West Side march at Elizabeth Peabody Elementary School, at 1444 West August Blvd.
Peabody is one of 54 schools slated for closure under a CPS proposal to shutter, consolidate and turnaround a record-breaking number of schools at the end of this school year. The district says it is attempting to address a $1 billion deficit and “utilization crisis” of more than 100,000 empty seats. The proposed plan has incited massive protests and outrage throughout Chicago.
“If some of these schools don’t come off the closure list, there’s going to be a ton of outrage and moral indignation from people all across the city,” said Sharkey in an interview with Progress Illinois. “But how do you do get your point across to a board that doesn’t really listen? This thing is being driven by the mayor, and the mayor doesn’t care.”
The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on CPS’ proposal, which also includes 11 school consolidations and six turnarounds.
Here’s more from Sharkey and Monday’s protest:
Lisa Lane, a teacher at Peabody Elementary, said the school, like many of the West Side’s neighborhood schools, is an institution in the community.
“We belong to the West Town community,” Lane said about Peabody, which opened its doors in 1895. “When you close schools in neighborhoods like this, you not only take away from the families you take away from our community.”
Students from Peabody provided the backdrop for Lane’s speech as she advocated for her school. Students came outside during recess and cheered and held signs with messages that included “Don’t Close My School!”
Lane suggested the proposal to close Peabody is part of a bigger push for privatized charter schools across the district. She said the nearby Noble Charter School, at 1010 North Noble St., plans to expand to a middle school and absorb Peabody’s campus.
Under the proposed plan by CPS, students from Peabody are slated to attend James Otis Elementary School, which, according to Lane, will force students to traverse a dangerous route and cross gang boundaries.
“They want to take our building, take our property, and take our traditional public schools out of this neighborhood,” she said, noting Peabody is the only open-enrollment public school in West Town east of Ashland Blvd. “We need to fight and keep our school open, do not give our school to another charter.”
From Peabody, protesters marched east down busy Chicago streets, such as West Chicago Ave., to eventually convene near Old Town’s George Manierre Elementary School.
Outside of Manierre, a school slated to close in June, parents convened to release one balloon for every school slated for closure.
"This is our city, this is our school and these are our children," said Sherise McDaniel, a parent of two students, ages 14 and eight, at Manierre Elementary.
McDaniel called for an elected school board, saying the quality of education in Manierre has been disrupted because of apprehensions surrounding the proposed closure.
"We need educators on our school board... The CPS administration is doing a disservice to our children," McDaniel said.
She also suggested the proposal puts students "on the front line" and warned aldermen and state legislators about the potential blowback they could see as a result of the closings come election season.
"To the black elected officials, we won't forget when election time roles around how you've let us down time and time again," McDaniel said.
Following the demonstration at Manierre, the march proceeded downtown to convene with South Side protesters for a demonstration at Daley Plaza. Check back with Progress Illinois for our coverage of the downtown rally, which is expected to draw thousands.
“We have to have a strong enough movement for educational justice, for fair taxes and for a different direction in this city or else Chicago’s going to wind up going back in time,” said Sharkey. “We’re going to end up with a highly segregated city with no social services in the neighborhoods and a shiny downtown.”
“Chicago is heading in a dangerous direction.”