Massive protests against latest school closings and other radical changes proposed by CPS, Duncan administration

Six months of secret planning results in another ‘victory’ for dictatorship in Chicago’s public schools

By six p.m. on Wednesday, February 27, 2008, it was all over. The Chicago Board of Education had ignored the protests of thousands of people and voted, once again without discussion, unanimously to approve a set of recommendations put before the Board by its Chief Executive Officer, Arne Duncan. Hundreds of letters from children had been ignored. Hundreds of hours of testimony and carefully worded letters from parents, teachers, principals, and the leaders of communities from the city’s far northwest side all the way out — nearly 30 miles away — to an isolated public housing project on the city’s south side. Chicago public school officials manipulate seating at the Board of Education's downtown headquarters on February 27, 2008, so that the majority of protesters against the proposals to close, reconstitute and otherwise modify 19 schools would be unable to get into the building or, once inside, find seats in the Board chambers during the meeting itself. Above: More than 200 people were in the lobby of 125 S. Clark St. and the concourse leading from Board headquarters to the Marquette Building a half hour before the Board was scheduled to begin its meeting at 10:00 a.m. on February 27, while hundreds more (visible through the window at the right) picketed and chanted outside the building. CPS officials "reserved" more than half the seats inside the Board's 5th floor chambers inside the building, controlled the elevators so that protesters could not get off on the 5th floor, and threatened dozens with arrest to prevent the massive protests from being visible to the public on the month broadcast of the Board's meeting. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.

The vote was so quick that those without a score card didn’t even know it was taking place. The vote was five to zero on what in some bodies is called an “omnibus” vote. The actual words spoken came first from the Secretary of the Chicago Board of Education.

“Next we will go to the reports from the Chief Executive Officer,” she said. “These are… EX4, EX5, EX6, EX7, EX8, EX9, EX10, EX11, EX12, EX13, EX14, EX15, EX16, EX17, EX18, EX99, EX20…” and so on.

When she had finished reading the “EX” section of the agenda, Rufus Williams, the President of the Chicago Board of Education, spoke. “Hearing no objections, I shall apply the last favorable voice vote,” Williams said. With those words, all spoken in less than two minutes with per efficiency by both Estela Beltran, the secretary, and Williams, 19 public schools had been closed or radically changed and thousands of lives had been disrupted or destroyed. The privatization and corporatization of public education in the third largest school system in the USA had been furthered by a school board appointed by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, on the recommendations of a CEO appointed by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Two of the members of the Chicago Board of Education were not present for the historic vote. Retired LaSalle Bank President Norman Bobins and wealthy lawyer Peggy Davis had attended the Board meeting earlier in the day but had disappeared before the Board returned from executive session for the late afternoon vote.

The “Yes” votes, for the record, were from Rufus Williams, the testy Board President, and four Board members: Clare Munana, a wealthy heiress who prides herself on being a proponent of globalization; Roxanne Ward, secretary of Ariel Capital Management; Alberto Carrero, President of Banquo Popular; and Tariq Butt, a well connected and wealthy physician who serves the Daley administration in dozens of ways. All of those who voted in favor of continuing destruction of Chicago’s public schools are millionaires except, perhaps, Williams, and the joke is now that he is working very hard to end that oversight in his ambitious career.

“Does EX stand for execution?” said one stage whispered voice. A group of parents from the Edison Regional Gifted Center, one of the top public elementary schools in the United States for the past quarter century, stood silently during the vote, and then left the Board chambers, some in tears. “EX10” had referred to them.

Less than one year after promising that he would no longer be closing public schools, CEO Duncan had proposed that largest number of closings in Chicago history, attacking schools across the board from the farthest and most affluent reaches of the city’s north side to the poorest corners of the west and south sides. Black teachers and children in some of the most impoverished communities in the wealthiest country on earth were “EX’d” alongside the children of lawyers and college professors living in homes that were valued at more money than entire families in other parts of town will earn working hard every day for a lifetime.

Although each of the schools hit by the Board’s actions of February 27 will be harmed, by far the worst impact will be on eight schools that are being closed for “reconstitution” — this year being called “Turnaround” in the Orwellian jargon of the Duncan administration and its corporate sponsors. Five of the schools are north of the center of the city and three are to the south.

After five years of trying to do the last fashion foisted on them by the Duncan and Daley administrations, the three “small schools” inside Orr High School at Chicago and Pulaski on the city’s northwest side are being closed and their staffs fired in June 2008. The three small schools — Moses Vines, AASTA, and EXCEL — had all followed the last model that was supposedly going to overcome all of the problems the nation’s poorest children bring into schools from the nation’s most segregated city’s communities. Along with the three schools at Orr, Duncan also recommended that two elementary schools — Howe and Morton — also be closed and their staffs fired.

In 2008, the sure fire way to solve the social, economic and racial problems of these schools is being called “Turnaround.” And for the Orr schools, Howe, and Morton, “Turnaround” will be administered by an entity called the “Academy for Urban Schools Leadership” (AUSL). AUSL, currently receiving $10 million from the Gates Foundation, supposedly trains “turnaround specialists” to save schools in the inner city that have “failed.”

There was some confusion in the media because on the south side, three schools that are also being reconstituted — Harper High School, Copernicus Elementary, and Fulton Elementary — are also being “turnarounded” (as some people are now saying, using the noun “turnaround” as a Chicago verb). Supposedly, Copernicus and Fulton were targeted by Duncan because they “feed into” Harper, which supposedly failed. But almost none of the children graduating from Copernicus and Fulton last year went to Harper High School, as teachers and principals pointed out. No matter. They’re being turnarounded anyway.

There was also media confusion about who was going to turnaround Harper, Copernicus, and Fulton. Despite some media reports, it wasn’t going to be AUSL, but something new inside the Chicago Board of Education’s massive and growing administration — the “Turnaround Office”, in cooperation with the University of Virginia.

The eight schools at which teachers, principals, and everyone else will be fired weren’t even the majority of those schools affected by the Board’s votes on February 27, 2008. Edison Regional Gifted Center was being yanked out of its roots on the far northwest side and relocated to an already overcrowded corner in Albany Park, supposedly to relieve overcrowding on the northwest side.

Irving Park Middle School, a highly successful school in a rapidly gentrifying community called “Old Irving Park” was being kicked out to make way for a toney new magnet schools, “Disney II”.

Andersen Elementary Schools, on Division St. less than a mile east of Clemente High School, was being forced out of a home it has occupied for more than 100 years so that CPS can put another clone — LaSalle II — into its building.

Gladstone Elementary on Roosevelt Road was being bulldozed out of its building as the area south of the University of Illinois continues to gentrify. DeLa Cruz Elementary in Little Village was being forced out of the way of the expanding empire of UNO charter schools. Midway Academy on the city’s southwest side was too small, according to CPS, to be a small school, so it’s being closed. After years of being promised a new school, Davis Elementary was told its new building will house a different school. Along with Vernon Johns Davis simply loses out. And all the way out in Altgeld Gardens, a public housing project across the Bishop Ford Expressway from one of the nation’s largest garbage dumps, Carver Middle School is being folded into Carver Primary.

The only school that was originally facing the axe which escaped it was Abbott Elementary, adjacent to Sox Park (“U.S. Cellular Field”). Because many of the documents pertaining to all of these events were not provided to Substance until deadline, our full reports on all of the hearings and other communications regarding these events will be published in future issues and eventually posted on the Substance Website. Please contact Substance if you want to participate in a project that will track these additions to Chicago’s school closing lists. A combination of half-truths, outright falsifications, and manipulated data resulted in general approval of proposals to close, relocate, or otherwise change 19 public schools at the Chicago Board of Education’s February 27, 2008, monthly meeting. The number was the largest in history. This was despite heated discusson during the previous year in both the Chicago City Council and and among members of the Illinois General Assembly over whether Chicago should place a moratorium on school closings. Generally, the proposals that were discussed in 2007 would require extensive, detailed public review before including any new schools on a list of public schools closed since 2002. Before the opening of the 2007-2008 school year, Chicago had closed 40 public elementary and high schools, replacing many of them in the same buildings with semi-private charter schools.

After the February 27, 2008, vote, the Chicago Board of Education had increased the number of schools closed (or otherwise significantly changed) to nearly 60 since Arne Duncan became CEO of Chicago’s public schools on July 1, 2001.

Of the proposals submitted to the Chicago Board of Education by CEO Duncan in January 2008, only one was significantly modified on February 27, 2008. Duncan removed Abbott Elementary School from the list of schools he proposed closing after it came out publicly that the Abbott building also housed a charter school.

For the sixth year, the members of the Chicago Board of Education, all appointed by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, approved schools closing proposal made by the CEO, also appointed by Mayor Daley, unanmously and without debate.

Although thousands of people had attended hearings on the proposals between February 4 and February 16 and hundreds had testified — many with moving eloquence — into the latest disruption of the public schools of Chicago under Mayor Richard M. Daley’s “Renaissance 2010” pgoram, the Board members, without discussion or debate, continued their tradition of rubber stamping every closing or change recommended on the Mayor’s behalf by Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan.

But the back story couldn’t stay out of the public discussion this time, even if it was kept off most of the corporate news that Chicago’s citizens receive.

By early 2008, a large number of Chicago parents, teachers, and students were noting that the Duncan administration had utilized what has now come to be known as “Shock Doctrine Tactics” against parents and schools across Chicago. After secretive decisions about what will be done to schools, almost all aimed at increasing privatization through the closing of regular public schools and replacing them with charter schools, CPS makes a major announcement in extreme haste, claiming that something has to be done — immediately — to stop the suffering of children. 

Originally published in the March 2008 print edition of Substance.


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