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Board votes to close 49 CPS schools, 1 program; Protesters removed from meeting

Thursday, May 23, 2013
cps protesters at board meeting Canter Middle School
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Several protesters were removed from the CPS meeting where the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 49 elementary schools and one high school program.

Five schools originally on the chopping block were saved; a decision on closing a sixth school was delayed one year. The board voted 4-2 to close Von Humboldt Elementary School, and then voted to close the rest-- 49 elementary schools and one high school program-- unanimously.

"Like it or not, the system does have to change," CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said on Wednesday afternoon after hearing dozens of Chicago Public Schools parents address their concerns about school closings. "We can no longer embrace status quo because the status quo is not working for all of Chicago's children."

CPS says those schools are "underutilized." Critics, including the Chicago Teachers Union, say the closings of the schools will put children who have to cross gang territory in danger, and they were not given a chance to be part of the process.

School officials say they have a plan in place to keep the children safe. Bennett said that she realizes there was a lack of trust and transparency in the beginning of the process, and said the board worked to change that after getting an extension to add public meetings.

As she spoke, protesters chanted, "Children will die because CPS lies." They, along with another man who had a loud outburst, were removed from the meeting.

Byrd-Bennett then suggested the board vote "no" to close some schools on the list: Mahalia Jackson, Marcus Garvey, Leif Ericson, and George Manierre elementary schools. They were removed from the chopping block following recommendations from the review board. Clara Barton will become a charter school; and the closure of Miriam G. Canter Middle School was delayed one year. Kellman Elementary will be relocated.

The board followed all of her suggestions.

"Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said through a statement. "Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy."

Following Bennett-Byrd, Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale spoke.

"We have been criticized for not listening to the community," Vitale said," but yet we have visited each and every closing school."

It is undeniable that we operate with excess capacity in our system."

After the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement in which he thanked the board, and wrote, "I know this is incredibly difficult, but I firmly believe the most important thing we can do as a city is provide the next generation with a brighter future. More hard work lies ahead, but I am confident that together with teachers and principals, engaged parents and community support, our children will succeed."

Aldermen, parents address board

Earlier Wednesday, aldermen and the public got a chance to address the board about the school closings.

"I'm worried about those babies walking past all the negative things going on on those streets," Ald. Walter Burnett said.

Some of the audience got loud as the aldermen spoke. Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale asked for the "peanut gallery" to be quiet.

"That's not cool, Vitale," someone responded.

"Now is not the time to hold our children hostage to the CPS budget process," Ald. Michael Chandler, 24th Ward, said.

After several aldermen who have closing schools in their wards spoke, the public was allowed a chance address the board. Each speaker was given two minutes.

When the first person came up to address the board, she and her friends were removed at the microphone. Later, a second loud group was also removed.

"Every school is my school," they chanted as they were led out in a line.

"Barbara Byrd-Bennett, you should really look at your heart when it comes to attacking our children. That's what you're doing, attacking our children and breaking our communities," said one parent whose child attends Lafayette Elementary School.

A group chanting, "Every school is my school," was led out of the meeting by security on Wednesday afternoon. CPS says the cuts must be made because those schools are "underutilized" and have declining enrollment. Critics, including the Chicago Teachers Union, say the cuts will force children to cross gang lines while going to the new schools.

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Protesters also gathered outside the CPS headquarters, where the board is holding the final meeting before the vote.

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