Chicagoans Protest Mayor Emanuel's Corporate School Plan

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Common Dreams

Chicagoans Protest Mayor Emanuel's Corporate School Plan

"Support our schools, don't close them”

by
Common Dreams staff

UPDATE: After hearing several hours of testimony from community members and after their own discussions, the Chicago Public Schools board went with their original plan to close or turn around 17 schools.

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said of the decision:

“By ignoring hundreds of hours of testimony of parents on how they never received the support they needed to strengthen their schools and increase student performance, they have created a huge gulf of ill will in our city,” Lewis said, reading from a prepared statement.

“They don’t care about the (students) or the neighborhoods they come from,” Lewis said. “All they see are data points and dollar signs.”

ABC Chicago has video from the meeting last night showing tears, anger and frustration over the board's plan:

* * *

EARLIER: Parents, teachers, students and activists flooded the Chicago Public Schools board meeting demanding they rethink the plan to close or "turn around" 17 schools, a plan many see as a path toward privatizing the public school system.

Ten schools are slated for turnaround -- in which all the employees are removed -- and seven for closing, NBC Chicago reports.  And adds that "the schools are among the lowest performing in the district for the past 10 years."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson emphasized the funding discrepancies between schools in poor versus affluent neighborhoods as essential to the problem. The Chicago Tribune reports:

As he waited in line this morning to attend the meeting, Jackson said inequities in Chicago's public school system amount to educational "apartheid," echoing sentiments expressed in a Chicago Teachers Union report last week.

"It's a type of segregation when, within the same school system, you have an upper tier and a lower tier," Jackson said. "It is apartheid. You have 160 schools (on the South Side) without a library. You have (selective enrollment high schools) Payton and Whitney Young and you have Marshall. It is apartheid.

One of the schools slated for "turnaround" is Brian Piccolo Elementary School, which serves 550 black and Latino students in grades pre-K through 8, Labor Notes reports:

Parents raised the stakes in the ongoing battle over school closings and the corporate takeover of education when they occupied a classroom inside a Chicago elementary school Friday night.

Brian Piccolo Elementary School, serving 550 black and Latino students in grades pre-K through 8 on the city’s west side, has been targeted for “turnaround” by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board.

The plan includes firing all the staff—from principal to lunchroom workers—and reopening the school under control of a private contractor, Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The 13 occupying parents and allies, who held the site for nearly 24 hours, didn’t win a reversal of the turnaround.

But the occupiers did force all seven school board members to each engage a team of parents and community members in intensive discussions on the future of the school, cracking a wall of silence from city leaders and dramatizing parent and community opposition to the corporate education agenda sweeping the city—and the nation.

One students tells the Chicago Tribune that the plan is in no way about putting students first:

“Over the last two years we’ve lost an art teacher, four other teachers and a counselor. Does that sound like putting children first?” asked Diamond McCullough, a student at Dyett High School on the South Side, one of two CPS high schools scheduled to begin a phase-out next fall.

A WBEZ report echoes that sentiment, saying Chicago Public schools avoids putting money into any schools in plans on closing in 10 years. It "lets them go to pot," the report states, even not fixing lead paint issues, asbestos, heat problems, among others, until before a private company is about to come in and take over in a "turnaround."

WLS Chicago has video of protesters marching through Mayor Emanuel's Lake View neighborhood in Chicago on Monday night protesting the plan for closures:
 

Several weeks ago, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis raised a flag on the conflict of interest behind the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) being both behind the school turnarounds and benefiting from them:

“The fact that AUSL is the beneficiary of these turnarounds and that the board president and the chief administrative officer have ties to AUSL — it doesn’t sit that well with us. It feels like a conflict of interest. That should be dealt with on some level,” she said.

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