Chicago Public Schools Barricades Offices as Teachers Rally Against School Closings

Vowing acts of civil disobedience, teachers, parents and students fight back against plan to close more than 50 city schools

In anticipation of a teacher-led protest expected to attract thousands of students, parents and community members, the Chicago Public School showed its nervousness ahead of the late afternoon rally by surrounding its downtown offices with metal barricades on Wednesday.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are joining with other labor organizations, parent groups, students, churches and community-based organizations in a mass march and rally in opposition to an announcement last week by CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to close more than fifty schools throughout the district.

Claiming the closures will hurt, not help, students and communities within the city, the CTU last week vowed to 'put their bodies on the line' in order to stop the plan.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The rally is set for 4 p.m. at Daley Plaza, followed by a march to City Hall and then the Board of Education offices.

The CTU, which wants a moratorium on closings, says it has been preparing parents and community groups for civil disobedience acts like sit-ins.

Opponents of the district's plan have hung "No School Closings" and "School Closings = One-Term Mayor" banners [around the downtown area]. They have gathered outside schools slated to be closed to voice their displeasure with the district's decisions.

And the Real News Networkreports:

Black ministers from around the city joined with teachers to denounce the plan, calling the Mayor's proposal nothing more than a "land grab" that they say will devastate low-income neighborhoods that already suffer from violence, poor services, and a of community cohesion.

"I wouldn't say that's the goal, but that's gonna be the effect. When you close the schools, it moves people off the land and allows real estate speculators to buy land at cheap prices. All of these properties will eventually be banked and bought for little or nothing," Rev. Marshall Hatch, senior pastor of New Mount Pilgrim MB Church, told the Chicago Sun Times.

The Sun Times continued:

The Rev. Ira Acree, senior pastor of the St. John Bible Church of Chicago, said his Austin parishioners are afraid of being left with "a lot of boarded up schools" while their children are forced to cross gang boundaries to get to new schools farther away from their homes.

"We want this runaway train halted. ... It's not the time to close all of these schools in the midst of an urban violence crisis. The mayor would do himself a great service to pause for a minute and clear some of the fear," Acree said.

Voicing the union's vociferous opposition to the closings, CTU president Karen Lewis declared the mayor's plan "outrageous."

"No society that claims to care anything about its children can sit back and allow this to happen to them," she continued. "There is no way people of conscience will stand by and allow these people to shut down nearly a third of our school district without putting up a fight. Most of these campuses are in the Black community. Since 2001 88% of students impacted by CPS School Actions are African-American. And this is by design."

Writing at The Guardian on Wednesday, Chicago-based writer Micah Uetricht described the what's happening in Chicago as the epitome of "slash-and-burn free market education reform." He writes:

The district insists that the current spate of closures is necessitated by declining enrollment, but plans to open new charters are continuing full-steam ahead. Charter operators like the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), for example, a close ally of Emanuel that runs 13 schools in the city and recently caught flak for giving millions in publicly funded contracts to executives' close friends and family like a kind of 21st century patronage organization, was awarded a $98m grant from the state of Illinois in 2009 and recently applied for $35m. The network has big plans to open new schools in the near future, amassing huge amounts of debt (serviced with public money) to fund its expansion.

Championing the dedication and determination of the CTU, Uetricht wonders if the resistance to the "corporate education reform model" can be replicated as the policies taken up by Mayor Emanuel and the CPS spread nationwide:

Not all teachers unions have had the willingness or wherewithal to resist that agenda; many have capitulated, or at least been complicit. But the Chicago Teachers Union has fought back. In November, 10 people were arrested in a sit-in outside Mayor Emanuel's City Hall office. Today, thousands of CTU members - alongside community activists, clergy, CPS students, and members of other unions - will return to City Hall, shutting down part of downtown in the middle of rush hour before many are arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The union and the communities will demand the district halt all school closings.

The school reformers peddling neoliberal snake oil, promising the healing benefits of privatizing the country's public school system, are undoubtedly watching Chicago very closely, looking for strategies to export to other cities. But the teachers and communities sure to be devastated by such policies should pay attention, too, as free market education policies spread from New Orleans and Detroit to Philadelphia and beyond, they might glean some useful lessons for resistance.


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