Student after student on Wednesday took to the podium at a public board meeting of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to deliver a unified message against efforts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel which they say are systematically dismantling the public education in the city.
"Our voice has been silenced by this unjust board. And it is now our duty to reject and overthrow this government. The duty of a government is to serve the interests of people not corporations. This board has failed." –Ross Floyd, student
Their immediate demand: Listen to us. Their rallying cry: 'Whose Schools? Our Schools!' And their revolutionary threat: Abandon the corporate-fueled model of education reform in Chicago or face a student-led and community-powered revolt.
Led by twenty members of Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, a student-led educational activism organization, each speaker offered prepared remarks that covered the gamut of student and community concerns regarding the policies set forth by the CPS board and Mayor Emanuel in recent years, including the impact of school closings, teacher layoffs, privatization, and the rise of for-profit charter schools.
But the students at the board meeting focused on the impact the cuts, closures and other policies were having on them and their fellow classmates.
As Asean Johnson, a nine-year-old from Marcus Garvey Elementary, so eloquently and powerfully stated to the board, "You are slashing our education. You are pulling it down. You are taking our education and our potential away."
"You are saying this is all about the kids," Johnson continued, "But I'm a student myself and I'm pleading and begging that you help these parents who are low-income. Give them what the need. Give them these schools."
He blasted the board for giving he and other students only two minutes to speak while letting "corporate businesses" have more than an hour at similar hearings. "Let the community talk," Johnson demanded with a stern voice though he barely reached the podium microphone. "Let the students talk! Let the parents talk! Let the teachers talk!"
"Let them control this board, don't let the banks control this board," he said as the room erupted with applause. "You need to go tell the mayor to just quit his job."
“Students are speaking out because our voices are not being heard,” says Jamie Leann Adams, a rising sophomore at Roosevelt High School, who was among those who addressed the board. “We're the experts on Chicago Public Schools, and we know best how closings will affect us. The Board of Education says they want to put students first. To do that, they need to listen to us.”
In one pointed statement, Ross Floyd, a CSOSOS organizer and student at Jones College Prep, went even further as he read from a 'Declaration of Education' that ultimately called for the "overthrow" of the powerful, but unelected, board of education.
In order to secure students rights, those most affected by education policy must be the ones making educational policy. This board of education must be run by the students, parents, teachers, and community members not by corporate CEO’s, bankers, and other political puppets.
When a long train of abuses is created by the same board of education enforcing austerity and despotism it is the students' and the peoples' right to throw off such Government, and to create new systems for their future security. [...]
Our voice has been silenced by this unjust board. And it is now our duty to reject and overthrow this government. The duty of a government is to serve the interests of people not corporations. This board has failed.
Many of the students referenced their student ID number, administered to them by the public school system in Chicago.
"You know me as 40675744," said one student who stood to address the board, "but today I am more than an I.D. Number. I am the state of education. I am the future. I am a student and I need you to listen to me."
The student continued:
You, the unelected school board, claim you want better greater literacy, higher graduation rates, and an all around better education for us students—your board meeting stickers even say "Children First"—but your actions truly say otherwise.
Do you expect us students to gain a better education when your $90 million budget cuts take away our books, our classes, our resources, 1,077 of our support staff, and 1,036 of our teachers, I mean even our toilet paper? Do you expect us students to believe you care about us when you close 48 of our elementary schools and force 5-14 year old children to cross gang lines just to learn. Or do you expect us students to be hopeful when you privatize our schools and reject all responsibility for our futures? CPS, do you expect us to climb to success, when you are cutting us off at the knees?
After all twenty students had spoken they formed a human chain in the meeting room and were chanting "Whose schools? Our schools!" as they were led away by city security officials.
Earlier on Wednesday, members of the Chicago Teachers Union had also picketed the school board following last week's firing by the CPS of more than 2,000 teachers, which union leader Karen Lewis called a "blood bath" for educators.