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If Urban Prep West Can Close, No School Is Safe

Closure of campus serving African-American young men is the latest transgression in the wholesale removal of Blacks from the city of Chicago

WASHINGTON - The Chicago Teachers Union was disappointed to learn of Chicago Public Schools’ plans to close Urban Prep Academy’s West Campus. The Union’s position on school closings has long been clear: We oppose the closure of any school for the same reasons we oppose charter expansion. Both have destabilizing effects on communities and lead to privatization of public education at the expense of those our schools should serve.

But the closure of Urban Prep West, a school serving a student population made up entirely of African-American males, goes one step further in its negative impact as it represents another chapter in the wholesale removal of Black and Brown people from our city. Urban Prep’s stated mission to remedy the myriad ways that Chicago Public Schools—and the city itself—has historically failed young Black men is admirable, however, it is past time that people stop believing that a striped tie and black blazer can mask the scars these children have suffered from the years of mistreatment of their communities. We are steadfastly opposed to the school’s closure, which would only exacerbate the Negro Removal Act that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has put in place since taking office in 2010.

Classrooms at Urban Prep have not been immune from the trauma, enrollment loss and test-based "accountability" that have decimated district schools serving Black communities on the South and West sides. But in the face of these mounting struggles, Urban Prep last year chose to expand its organization rather than invest in the classrooms, staff and students they currently serve. Urban Prep applied for, and was granted, a contract to run a charter school in Las Vegas under Nevada's Achievement School District. The Achievement School District operates much like other state takeovers of urban school districts, where privatized charter operators are hired to take over struggling, under-resourced public schools.

According to documents submitted to the Nevada Department of Education, Urban Prep management created a full-time, six-figure position specifically for its expansion effort, and top officials took numerous trips to Las Vegas over the past year to secure its expansion. Meanwhile, Urban Prep has one of the most bloated central office operations of any charter school in CPS, serving fewer than 800, yet spending $1.3 million on executive and central office administration (or $1,700 per student). 

Our members at Urban Prep West are in the midst of negotiating a new contract, and under their collective bargaining agreement, teachers who are laid off if the school closes will have the right to be placed into vacancies for which they are qualified at the school’s remaining two campuses.

We hope that last week’s news will serve as a wake-up call to Urban Prep leaders to keep their focus local and provide for students here in Chicago, because let’s be clear—if the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education can close a school made up entirely of young Black men that touts a 100 percent college acceptance rate year after year, what does that say for the academically struggling school with infrastructure issues that serves a low-income community without support from the city’s Black power elite?

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An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), CTU is the third largest teachers local in the country and the largest local union in Illinois.

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