West Side parents and activists have pledged to vote out Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his “rubber stamp” aldermen who have not stood with the community against school closings.
“Aldermen, you have committed political murder upon yourselves,” said West Side activist Windy Pearson outside Edward C. Delano Elementary School Friday morning. “We have decided that it is time for all of you that have not stood strongly and firmly with us to go.”
The Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) plan to close 49 elementary schools and one high school at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
“The city of Chicago, CPS, Rahm Emanuel, non-elected school board, Mr. Vitale, this message is for you,” Pearson said. “We are the community. We are the stakeholders. We are the parents, the activists, the teachers, the voters, and we are registering individuals to become deputy registrars.”
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) launched an initiative to train deputy registrars in order to get more voters on the roll. CTU plans to register thousands of new voters in an effort to change up Chicago’s “bad governance.”
More than 100 people took part in the first registrar-training workshop Thursday night. Check out Progress Illinois’ full report on the meeting here.
Pearson said West Siders will help CTU get “500,000 plus” new Chicago voters registered.
Bonita Robinson, a retired teacher who worked at Edward K. Ellington Elementary school for 39 years, said the Chicago Board of Education and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett have “arrogantly” refused to discuss how their reforms, including the closing of schools, have “betrayed black children.”
In addition to closing 50 schools, the majority of them on the West and South sides, the school board also approved CPS’ plan to fire and replace faculty at five schools.
“We have to fight this destabilization and this racism that has occurred,” Robinson said. “We must confront the board and make them address this travesty that has occurred in our community. We are ready now to fight back and take our schools back.”
Alex Lyons with the Save Our Neighborhood Schools Coalition based on the West Side said black elected officials in Illinois have not collectively stood up for the community during the school closing process. He said they have essentially taken a “rubber stamp” vote by not being more vocal about the school actions.
“They’ve turned their backs on us,” Lyons said. “That’s been the biggest disappointment because we put them in office to be our mouthpiece, and instead of being our mouth piece they’ve kept their mouths shut.”
Here’s more from Lyons:
The education activists also said black state lawmakers have not done enough to pass bills that would install a temporary school closing moratorium; both pieces of legislation have been stalled in the Illinois House and Senate. The clock is ticking for the bills as the spring legislative session ends May 31.
Busloads of activists lobbied in Springfield for the companion bills Wednesday.
Joy Harrison, a parent at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School, which will close, said it is “ludicrous” to ask children to walk longer distances through drug-infested areas and across gang boundaries to get to their new school. In the fall, Henson students will have to travel to the welcoming Charles Evans Hughes Elementary School.
And merging two schools into one will cause a whole lot of problems for faculty, parents and students, Harrison added.
“You’re talking about overcrowded classrooms, stressed out teachers. It’s going to be a problem. This is wrong,” she said. “Mayor Rahm Emanuel, you need to reconsider. You have got to go.”
The mayor has no concern for African-American children, Harrison said.
“We are not taking this lying down,” she stressed. “This has got to stop. You’re putting our kids in harm's way.”
Another Henson parent, Allen Anderson, added that people are being killed in their West Side community, and in other parts of the city, and “no one seems to care.” He said no child should have to walk even further through Chicago’s violent streets.
Lemetria Johnson, Local School Council chairwoman at Henson, said she has a “heavy heart,” but she will continue to fight for her school.
Johnson talked with Progress Illinois about how Henson's closing will impact her children who currently attend the school:
Pearson said CPS says it has a budget crisis, but the mayor plans to pump millions of taxpayer dollars into a new project for a DePaul University arena near McCormick Place.
“Our children are not your money to the bank,” Pearson said.
Dwayne Truss, a board member of Raise Your Hand For Illinois Public Education, decried the school closings, but stressed that parents cannot forget they now have to enroll their children in different schools. Enrollment for students impacted by the school actions began Thursday and will end May 31.
Truss made it clear, however, that parents and community members are not complacent with CPS’ school reform plan.
“This thing is not over yet,” he said. “No matter what the mayor says, it is not over with yet.”