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Call For UN Intervention Against Human Rights Disaster Facing Chicago Schools

Chicago groups demand inquiry into discrimination, violence, and erosion of education and democracy

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Chicago protests against school closures (Photo: Kari Lydersen/In These Times)Chicago human rights advocates are demanding a United Nations investigation into the human rights abuses stemming from the closure of 49 public schools throughout the city.

The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights—a coalition of over 50 social justice organizations, service providers, and university centers, sent a "letter of allegation" to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Switzerland, written by University of Chicago law professor Sital Kalantry with wide community input.

The letter charges that the mass school shutdown stands in direct violation of multiple human rights treaties of which the US is a signatory, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The closing of 49 public schools in Chicago implicates the human rights of children, their parents and guardians to non-discrimination and equality, to be free from violence, to education, and to participate in public policy decisions," the letter reads.

The closures violate prohibition of discrimination, because "African American children make up 42% of the students in Chicago’s public schools, but 80% of the children impacted by the school closures are African American," the letter declares.

Furthermore, the closures stand in "violation of the right of children to be free from violence":

When the school year begins in August 2013, approximately 30,000 children will be forced to attend new schools, many of which are farther from their homes than their original schools. Many Chicago neighborhoods are gang-controlled. When children or adults from one gang dominated neighborhood travel to another neighborhood or even from one block to another block they are at risk of violence even if they are not affiliated with any gang.

The gutting of Chicago's public schools violate children's' rights to quality education, as well as the democratic rights of communities to participate in decisions that affect their school systems, the letter charges.

The letter has been signed onto by Chicago social justice organizations and unions—including the Chicago Teachers Union, the National Lawyers Guild, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers—and it was written under the legal counsel of the University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Supporters can sign an online petition calling for the UN to take steps to address the human rights catastrophe.

The Chicago School Board voted in May to shut down 49 schools throughout the city and has already laid off thousands of teachers, despite Chicago-wide protests demanding the schools stay open.

“The United Nations taking this issue up and giving it serious attention will really bring home to Chicago and the United States that there are violations occurring here of human rights, potentially, not just about a budget crisis,” Sital Kalantry—the University of Chicago law professor who filed the letter—told WBEZ Chicago public radio station.

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