The Chicago Board Education unanimously approved Wednesday night to close, phase out, or turnaround 17 academically struggling Chicago public schools.
A school slated for turnaround will see its entire staff – teachers, librarians, and principal – completely replaced.
Activists said CPS’s decision targets a disproportionate number of schools whose student populations are made up of predominantly low-income black and Latino students. They warn that turnarounds will destabilize an already fragile learning environment for these students.
“CPS’ polices are the status quo, and because of these force-fed reforms the majority of our students, most of whom are black, brown and poor, are experiencing a form of education apartheid,” President of the Chicago Teachers Union Karen Lewis said at Wednesday’s board meeting.
Lewis accused the board of turning a deaf ear to the teachers and families who will be affected by the closings and turnarounds when it comes to enforcing policy changes. She asked the board to consider the other reform options championed by parents and teachers over the past year.
The board’s decision came just hours after an emotionally charged public hearing where the majority of about 70 parents, teachers, local school council reps, and other community members urged the board to keep their schools open.
Many of those who spoke lined up at about 5 a.m. inside the Board of Education building at 125 South Clark Street and waited for over six hours before the board began to hear their allowed two-minute speeches.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was the first to speak in front of the board at the beginning of what turned into nearly three hours of public comments. Jackson compared CPS’s actions to the Little Rock Nine, where in 1957 nine African-American students were denied entry to a segregated school in Arkansas.
“Racial equality matters. Inadequate distribution of educational resources matters,” Jackson said.
“We cannot have a two-tier system, where we have the very best for a few and the very worst for the rest. We deserve equal protection under the law,” he said before the meeting.
Here’s more from the protest, including our conversation with Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr.:
Others who spoke at the event, like Marquette Elementary teacher Marcy Hardaloupas, said CPS officials have restricted resources – money, programs, and teachers – from their schools in order to make way for Academy for Urban School Leadership, or AUSL, schools.
“I call on the city and state attorneys, Lisa Madigan and Anita Alvarez, to investigate a conflict of interest involving CPS’s decision making. I ask them to investigate how public, taxpayer dollars have been taken away from public schools and given to millionaire businessmen who run AUSL and charter schools,” Hardaloupas said.
Her comments were directed towards Chicago Public Schools President David Vitale, who, up until accepting his current position, was the chairman of AUSL.
But CPS officials maintain, as does Mayor Rahm Emanuel, that the school closings and turnarounds are the best options for Chicago’s schoolchildren.
“We applaud the Board’s decision in putting the academic needs of our students above all else and allowing CPS to take immediate action in providing higher quality school options for students that have been failed by the system for far too long,” CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard in press release. “We can no longer defend a status quo where nearly half of students drop out of high school and the achievement gap among African American and Latino students has climbed to high double digits.”