“We’re here today mourning the death of our school,” said Magdalene Thurmond, a mother of two Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who attended their last day of classes at Ana Roque de Duprey Elementary School on Monday.
As students filed out of the building for the last time, Thurmond was one of roughly 20 parents and staff members who gathered for a candlelight vigil outside of the closing school.
Duprey, which operates on the district’s “Track R” calendar, was one of 20 schools to close its doors this week, completing CPS’ plan to shutter 48 elementary schools before next year. Alexander Von Humboldt Elementary School, which shares a building with Duprey at 2620 West Hirsch St., also sounded its bell for the last time.
Thurmond's youngest child attended Von Humboldt’s Child Parent Center, an early childhood program that will also be shuttered.
Another 28 schools, running on the “Track E” schedule, were closed Wednesday.
“How could these elected officials, who have authority to make positive changes, actually create chaos in the lives of low-income families,” asked Thurmond, 35, who helped organize the candlelight vigil and passed petitions as a last-ditch effort to keep her children’s schools open.
Duprey, Von Humboldt, and nearby Jean D. Lafayette Elementary, which closed Wednesday, were the last remaining neighborhood schools in Chicago’s West Side community of East Humboldt Park, according to Thurmond.
“This is a terrible thing,” she said, adding that her children, ages nine, seven and four, will be forced to travel nearly a mile to attend their new school in the fall, West Town’s Jose De Diego Elementary Community Academy. Diego is on the other side of Western Ave., a distance Thurmond referred to as "unreasonable and unfair."
"It's a whole different community," she said.
Thurmond, who moved her family from Chicago’s South Side two years ago, said she chose to enroll her students at Duprey specifically for the small class sizes. She said her children were thriving in classrooms with a maximum of 20 students and is “devastated” over having to “uproot their education.”
“We’re going to hold Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the welcoming schools accountable for the promises they made to the students that are being displaced,” she said. “What happened to No Child Left Behind?”
Here’s more from Thurmond:
Attributed to a $1 billion budget deficit and utilization crisis, the Chicago Board of Education voted in May to close 49 elementary schools across the district and one high school. Miriam Canter Middle School will be shuttered over two years' time.
The board voted unanimously to close most of the institutions; the only school to receive a split vote of 4-2 was Von Humboldt.
“Our campus was the only school that got votes against closure by the board,” said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes Duprey and Von Humboldt. The alderman attended Monday’s candlelight vigil. “I just want to tell the parents, there’s a new day, there is justice in our world.”
On the same day as the East Humboldt Park schools’ last day of classes, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced she would be recommending to the Chicago Board of Education 19 new community-based vendors to facilitate a massive expansion of the district’s Safe Passage program.
As part of the $7.7 million upgrade to the program, which will provide students with a guided route to and from school by faith-based or community leaders, the vendors would hire an additional 600 Safe Passage workers for the 2013-2014 school year.
“They can’t keep these kids safe,” said Denise Beasley, 54, a grandparent of a four year-old student that attended Von Humboldt’s Child Parent Center. “These kids are going into new neighborhoods, new schools, and this is a gang territory.”
Beasley said she lived across the street from Diego, which will welcome her grandchild in the fall, for five years and called the area “dangerous.”
“This Safe Passage program sucks,” she said. “The kids are safe here at Von Humboldt, why do they have to move? Anything could happen."
In a statement, Byrd-Bennett said safety is among the district’s “top priorities.”
“Expanding the successful Safe Passage program to include next year’s welcoming schools is one of several steps we’re taking to create safe environments in and around our schools,” she said. “Safe Passage workers are the eyes and ears of their communities and will be our partners in providing safe routes to and from school every day for students.”
Thurmond scoffed at the Safe Passage program.
“When bullets are flying the average person is going to run and duck just like everyone else,” she said. “The community people on these corners aren’t cops, they won’t be able to do anything.”
Thurmond said she’d be walking her children to and from Diego, adding that she sought enrollment at the North Side’s Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School, but was put on a waiting list. She said enrolling her children at a new school was not an easy process.
“My child was happy at Duprey, he was safe here,” she said. “We’re going to continue to fight.”