The Chicago Teachers Union led a bus tour of blighted neighborhoods slated for school actions Thursday, providing legislators, stakeholders and members of the press with a first-hand glimpse of communities they say are being “destabilized” by Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) school closures.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) led a bus tour of blighted neighborhoods slated for school actions Thursday, providing legislators, stakeholders and members of the press with a first-hand glimpse of communities they say are beinig “destabilized” by Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) school closures.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D, IL-7) said he is trying as hard as possible to understand why some CPS parents are so frustrated with the school action plan. He hoped the bus tour could enlighten him on how he might help “alleviate any of that frustration so we can continue to educate our children as best as we possibly can."
Teachers, parents, students and community activists affected by school closures narrated the tour, which stopped at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, Fort Dearborn Elementary School and Guggenheim Elementary School, the latter of which closed in 2012.
From those South Side schools, the two-hour bus tour then traveled to the West Side, where attendees were dropped off and proceeded to trek the same course students will be forced to walk from a school slated for closure, Genevieve Melody Elementary School, to the welcoming school, Edward C. Delano Elementary School.
“(District officials) are not thinking about our children, all they’re thinking about is saving a dollar here and there,” said Jymmetta Penson, whose two grandchildren attend Mahalia Jackson Elementary School in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. “Our kids will have to cross gang lines to go to another school.”
In late May, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on the plan to close 54 schools, consolidate 11 and turnaround six.
Mahalia Jackson, located at 917 W. 88th St., is scheduled to close at the end of this year, with the students slated to attend Fort Dearborn Elementary School, at 9025 S. Throop Ave, next year. Penson, who lives near Jackson, said if her grandchildren were to walk to their new school, it would take “at least 15 minutes.”
“Why fix what’s not broken,” asked Penson, who noted Mahalia Jackson had a library, air conditioning, a gym, a science lab, two technology labs, approximately 25 to 30 students per classroom, and “uses all of the classrooms.”
CPS is attributing this wave of school closures to the need to address a $1 billion deficit and a “utilization crisis” caused by 100,000 empty seats. Wednesday at the Chicago Board of Education meeting, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that, although she recognizes “change is really hard, change is frightening”, school closures are inevitable because the “status quo isn’t working.”
“The rhetoric about school closings has heated up, (at the Board of Education meeting) Barbara Byrd-Bennett said people who aren’t in favor of closing schools are in favor of defending a status quo, which is failing, but these closings will have a racist impact,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of CTU.
Sharkey said the bus tour was intended to get behind the rhetoric and provide perspective on what “the reality on the ground looks like when neighborhood schools are closed.”
At the Board of Education meeting, Byrd-Bennett said accusations alleging that school closures were racist was an “affront” to her “as a woman of color.”
But approximately 80 percent of the students affected by the impending school actions are African American, and a student who attended Englewood's Guggenheim Elementary questioned the safety of students now being asked to travel longer distances in blighted communities.
“They need to think about what they’re doing to these students, this neighborhood is really unsafe,” said Jasmin Murphy, 12, a sixth-grade student who transferred to Amandla Charter School in Englewood when Guggenheim closed. “I just miss it so much.”
Located at 7141 S. Morgan St., Guggenheim Elementary was closed in 2012 and now sits boarded-up and vacant. Murphy said she would like to still play on the school’s playground, but like the building itself, it hasn’t been maintained and is dilapidated and dangerous.
Here’s more from Murphy, from outside the vacant school:
Politicians who attended the bus tour got a first-hand look at how dangerous some of Chicago’s streets can be. Walking through the West Side neighborhood of Washington Park, past boarded up buildings and vacant lots littered with broken glass and garbage, they traveled the distance between a closing school and a welcoming school.
Melody Elementary, at 412 S. Keeler Ave., will close and have its students attend Delano, which is located at 3937 W. Wilcox St. The staff and administration from Melody will also be taking over at Delano.
“It reminds me of a third world country,” said Rep. Rush, as he walked past curious on-lookers who were hanging out on the street corner. At one point, Rush inquisitively stepped into an abandoned building with no door and gaping holes where windows used to be.
Rep. Davis, who watched Rush probe the vacant house, suggested people might be illegally living inside.
While looking at the crumbling structure, Ald. Fioretti called for reform of the tax increment financing (TIF) program, suggesting CPS could use the additional funding to offset the deficit and perhaps keep schools open.
“The city’s TIF funding that goes to the few is what’s killing Chicago,” said Fioretti. “There is staggering mismanagement and failure of leadership at CPS; closing all these schools comes at what cost? This is not a well thought out operation.”
Here’s more from Fioretti, from outside an abandoned building located between Melody Elementary and Delano Elementary in the Washington Park neighborhood:
Also in attendance for the CTU bus tour were State Reps. Ann Williams (D-11), Kelly Cassidy (D-14), Robert Martwick (D-19) and Chicago Alds. John Arena (45th), Nicholas Sposato (36th), Latasha Thomas (17th), JoAnn Thompson (16th) and John Pope (10th).
“How do you think us mothers feel? What if someone was hiding in that building and wanted to snatch her up? The city needs to do something better for us,” said Shakeena Sturgent, whose eight year-old daughter and seven year-old son attend Delano Elementary.
Sturgent’s children won’t have to make the hike from the closing Melody to the welcoming school, Delano, but she said she sympathizes with many of the parents being forced to contend with school actions, noting her children are nervous about the new students slated to attend Delano.
“CPS needs to talk to the children,” she said. “I want the Chicago Board of Education to come out here and walk these streets. I want them to see what our children have to go through. They need a clearer view of what’s really going on out here."
The actions slated for Washington Park occur in the heart of Rep. Davis’ district. He and Rep. Rush said they plan to host a Congressional Joint Forum on the impending school actions at Quinn Chapel AME Church, 2401 S. Wabash Ave., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 20.
Here’s more from Thursday’s tour and Reps. Rush and Davis: