Hundreds of Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers, students, parents, and workers descended on Daley Plaza on Wednesday, March 27th. They protested the proposed closing of 54 schools in Chicago, announcing to Mayor Rahm Emanuel that they will not let go of the schools without a fight.
The protesters rallied in the Plaza to hear speeches from Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and other labor leaders before marching to the CPS building and City Hall. The police issued tickets to 127 demonstrators who participated in a sit-in on the southbound lanes of LaSalle Street.
Most of the 54 public schools scheduled for closing CPS claims are “underutilized.” They are located on the South and West sides of the city, affecting roughly 30,000 in mostly Black and Latino communities. The Board of Education determines which schools will be closed down according to a “utilization formula.” Schools that are “underutilized”, according to the formula, are under 60% capacity. Opponents of the closure say the formula does not take into account many factors that could influence the number of students within a school, such as special needs services that require lower student-teacher ratios. One of the issues in the CTU strikes last September was class size.
Leonard Hayes, retired CPS teacher from Conrad Military academy said the closings are “a man-made problem, a joke.” Hayes believes the utilization formula is unfair and is designed to fail the public schools. He makes clear the outrageous disconnect between the Board of Education that claims some schools are “underutilized” and the teachers who work in classrooms that are overfilled with children. Schools are not being examined on an individual basis. The School Board merely looks at numbers, Hayes said.
He called the school closings “racist and classist” and a great destabilizer for middle class neighborhoods. The sentiment was shared by many who marched Wednesday outside the CPS building and City Hall.
Because the school closings disproportionately affect the Black and Latino communities, some argue they even undermine the history and achievements of African Americans in Chicago. “They are closing down schools that have names of African American icons,” stated Chicago Teachers’ Union leader Karen Lewis. “but they’ll open up schools to put a living billionaire’s name in the front. These are injustices.”
The real issue, according to Jim Vaile, a teacher at Hammond Elementary, is privatization. Though he agrees Mayor Emanuel and his administration seek to break the CTU, Vaile argues “the school closings are driven by business interests.” Protesters fear that the closed public schools will be re-opened as corporate run charter schools. “The underlying agenda is privatizing,” continued Vaile, “and it’s happening all over the city.” He said the public schools in Chicago will meet the same fate as the parking meters and the CTA.
The Chicago Teachers’ Union and its supporters made clear their determination to keep these schools open. Karen Lewis called all present at the rally to “be in the streets, wherever we need to be” and encouraged students to show up at their real school on the first day of school in protest.