Parents and students occupied a Chicago school Wednesday, refusing to budge from a Lafayette Elementary classroom on the final day of education before the school is permanently shut down by the city.
Lafayette was just one of 28 Chicago public schools that held its final day of classes Wednesday after the city's board of education drove through a late-May plan to shutter a stunning eight percent of all public schools in the city.
Wednesday's closures were just the first wave: 49 schools total, almost all elementary level, will permanently close their doors to students.
Lafayette parents and students are not willing to accept the city's plan, Progress Illinois reports:
“Closing Lafayette will kill our neighborhood and our families,” said Rousemary Vega, a parent occupying the school. “We demand that this school stay open. We demand to keep our music programs, and our special ed program. We’re not leaving until this school is saved."
When the school day ended, a group of nine took over the second-story room. NBC reports:
The protestors, who have labeled themselves "Occupy Lafayette," hung signs from the windows of the classroom. One person could be seen waving an American flag.
Meanwhile, over fifty supporters converged outside, chanting their support for the occupation. NBC reports:
Students were also seen playing musical instruments, an ode to the school's lauded music program.
The group—under the banner 'Occupy Lafayette'—succeeded in blocking the room for several hours before the police came to shut down the nonviolent sit-in.
The widespread closures are backed by the political muscle of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who says he is trying to save money for the city and consolidate schools he deems 'underutilized'. Chicago workers, students, parents, and community members charge that the closures will devastate Chicago workers and students and erode public education, disproportionately slamming poor people and people of color.
According to the Chicago Tribune:
"87 percent of the district's 403,000 students coming from low-income families and more than 91 percent from minority households."
As students are locked out, over 850 school workers are being canned, with more layoffs likely to follow.
Education advocates deride the mass shutdowns as part of the national attack on education that is eroding school quality and teaching conditions, as Philadelphia guts its public school system by closing schools and firing school workers in a similar move.
The closures move forward despite fierce community opposition, including a 26,000-strong Chicago Teachers Union strike last September, the largest U.S. teachers' strike in decades.
CTU president Jesse Sharkey declared that the city's teachers back the parent and student occupation of Lafayette:
We stand in solidarity with the parents who are currently staging a sit-in at Lafayette Elementary School and are facing arrests by police. Lafayette is one of the schools that people were most bitter about. The parents, teachers and staff at that school really felt as though the decision to close it was an illegitimate one—in the service of students and the importance of that school to the neighborhood. But the Board jammed that decision through and people are determined to be heard. School closings hurt students and destabilize communities. The parents who are currently engaged in this non-violent protest are heroes and they are fighting in the best interest of their children.