LA CASITA! La Casita sit-in resumes after Chicago Board of Education moves in against Whittier school
The famous occupation of "La Casita," the little house, a building on the campus of Chicago's Whittier Elementary School, resumed by June 23, 2011, after Chicago Board of Education officials sent in construction crews to begin the destruction of the main building's special education classroom so that a library could be built, at a cost of more than $1 million, inside the overcrowded main Whittier building. Whittier parents and their supporters had created a library within the outside building during and following a 43-day sit in last fall. At the time, officials of Chicago Public Schools lied and threatened the community as the "Whittier Moms" occupied the small building 24 hours a day. By the time the occupation was over, donations from around the country had enabled the community to establish a library within La Casita.
But after the occupation was called off and the building was not demolished, several new struggles went on. During the course of the original occupation, the nation was told that Chicago's public schools — 15 years after the beginning of mayoral control and after nearly eight years of leadership under Arne Duncan — had 160 public schools without libraries. Most of those, like Whittier, were in Chicago's hyper-segregated African American ghettos and Latino barrios. The scandal of a hundreds thousand poor children without access to library books was the real result of mayor control and the "accountability" movement. Years of relentless propaganda on behalf of charter schools and corporate "school reform" (usually reported as "news" in Chicago's tightly controlled newspapers and other media) brought Chicago school officials (led by Duncan) into the cabinet of President Barack Obama. The Chicago Plan, contrived by the 21st Century version of the "Chicago Boys," is now national education policy, "Race To The Top."
But at Whittier, a small 19th century school in the midst of Chicago's huge Mexican and Mexican American barrio, the betrayals continued. While the Whittier Moms and their supporters complied with Board of Education suggestions that they plan their library, Chicago public schools officials planned not to refurbish La Casita, as the community demanded, but to increase the tight squeeze inside the main Whittier building by tearing out the space currently used to serve special education students and replacing it with a new "library" inside.
One of the clearest examples of corporate control of Chicago's schools — and don't forget, this is the "model" for the nation — came during the tumultuous months following the end of the 43-day sit in.
Whittier Moms worked with volunteer librarians to set up a working library within La Casita. Volunteer architects drew up comprehensive plans for the multiple uses of La Casita.
And the Chicago Board of Education, under two Board presidents (appointed by two different mayors) and three "Chief Executive Officers" (Chicago hasn't had a school superintendent since mayoral control began in 1995, pioneering the model for the USA long before New York City became its focal point) continued to block the community's wishes and plan to continue the corporate master plans that have governed Chicago school politics for more than 20 years. The Whittier community was not going to take part in decisions about the future of real public schools for the Whittier children.
The Whittier library struggle began in September 2010, when a former cop named Ron Huberman (who had been hyped in the media as a real "numbers guy" even though his training was in English and his abilities with numbers were quite limited) was "CEO" of CPS. Following the announcement by then Mayor Richard M. Daley that he (Daley) would not seek another term as mayor, Huberman abruptly resigned. (He was rewarded with a job at a Private Equity Fund).
The Whittier Moms continued their struggle to locate their library inside La Casita. At every meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, they protested against the Board's extensive and expensive plans to tear out the special education programs and put in a "library" within the overcrowded and aging building.
By December 2010, a new "Chief Executive Officer," a former not-for-profit executive named Terry Mazany, was heading Chicago's public schools, and the last Board of Education President appointed by Richard M. Daley (a former City Hall lawyer named Mary Richardson Lowry) was berating the Whittier Moms and ordering security to pull the Moms away from the microphones at each meeting of the Board of Education. While Mazany repeated a mantra scripted by city officials, Lowry sicced security on those who objected. Month after month that struggle went on.
In February 2011, Chicago elected former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to succeed Daley, following an election featuring the hopelessly divided opposition and the final appearance of the notorious former U.S. Senator Carol Mosely Braun in the race. While Braun was featured as the supposed "consensus candidate" of the supposed leadership of Black Chicago, Emanuel's well funded election machine won the majority of wards and precincts in Chicago's sprawling African American ghettos. No sooner was Emanuel poised to take office than he announced he was appointing a completely new school board and a completely new CEO (and executive staff). The controversial Rochester schools superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard, was to become CEO of CPS, and all seven members of the school board appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley were replaced by a new group, appointed by Emanuel.
The stage was set for the current confrontation.
Brizard continued to follow the corporate policies laid down for the future of Whittier, but with a new twist — the Rahm Emanuel media distraction machine.
On June 23, 2011, Rahm Emanuel announced that he was hosting a media event with Brizard at one of the many UNO charter schools on Chicago's southwest side. There, the two would devote a long time to explaining, again, why Chicago schools needed a longer school year and a longer school day. Charter school teachers and parents, carefully selected by Emanuel's media team, sung the praises of UNO and the longer school day at the anti-union charter schools that Emanuel had long praised.
Meanwhile, less than two miles away, heavy equipment and a dozen Chicago police officers (followed by CPS security teams) moved in on Whittier.
But the Moms were ready, and by the night of June 23 - 24, 2011, the occupation of La Casita had resumed. Substance will continue these stories as more information is reported from the site by Substance staff and reporters.