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Pilsen - Little Village 'Network' Hearing February 6, 2013... Community Voice Rises Above the Disorganization of CPS’ Utilization Hearing

"I'm going to give up if you shove me into another school," a Madero student cries out as he walks towards Arne Rivera, Deputy Chief of Staff for Barbara Byrd-Benett. "You shouldn't close our school, just because you didn't experience what I experienced!" The microphone cuts off.

Part of the crowd of more than 1,000 parents, students and teachers who turned out on February 6, 2013 to oppose school closings at the hearings for the "Pilsen Little Village Network" hearing. The crowd above was only part of the total crowd, as CPS officials locked the doors of the gym and kept out hundreds behind a phalanx of police and CPS security while those locked out chanted "Let us in!" and those inside chanted "Let them in!" Substance photo by Sarah Chambers.The young boy pulls away from the microphone, tears trickling down his face. Another Madero student embraces him in front of the crowd. This is just one of the 40+ testimonials given at the Pilsen/Little Village school utilization hearings. More than 1,000 parents, community members, students and teachers packed the main room, the overflow room and the surrounding hallways to over-capacity. Fists pounding and shouts of, "Let us in," could be heard through the doorways. The crowd in the main hall responded with chants of, "Let them in! They have a right to be heard!"

Willy Montes de Oca, CPS director of Local School Council relations, attempted to placate shouting community members by saying, "We want to make sure everyone's voice is heard." At the same time, a community member shouted from the floor, "This is our community! We shouldn't have people shuffled away to another room, locked out of here!" Lisa Levy, a teacher from Spry Elementary School told the panel, "Your plan is chaos; this meeting is chaos! You can't even plan a meeting, how can you plan school closings?"

One of the dozens of home-made signs that were brought to the hearing to express the unanimous opposition of the communities in the "Pilseon Little Village Network" to the claims about "underutilization" and the need for more school closings (and charter school openings) in the community. Substance photo by Sarah Chambers.A Teleopochcalli parent, Maria Valencia, reiterated the community's disdain for the CPS procedures, "I don't understand how we have so many people outside and people inside who can't go to the bathroom," she said, noting that there were many children present.

The crowd stifled a giggle, as the officers blockaded the doors with their bicycles to deny reentry. "You just proved to the whole community how effective you do your job when holding a meeting. How effective can you be with this? Upstairs (in the overflow room), no one could hear anyone. No one was there. Only a couple of you actually listened."

Paderewski parents did not see the school closing process as incompetence -- they saw it as racist. Paderewski was previously slated for closure in 2010, but the community successfully fought and saved the school. "CPS has failed them (students) by talking about closing our school. Rosa Parks fought to not sit in the back of the bus. Our children are fighting to have their school Paderewski. When will CPS stop putting dollar signs on our schools? Barbara Byrd-Bennett if you could only see their eyes, see their souls, you would see that closings are not the answer."

Parents note that every time CPS begins a rumor that a school might be closed, some families have to rethink their choices about sending their children to that school. The "underutilization" claims of the Byrd-Bennett administration has constituted a massive destabilization attack on the communities and schools since the first rumors that more then 100 schools might be closed.

Parents and community members were infuriated with the CPS claims of a "billion dollar deficit" while at the same time, planning to open thirteen new charters. With many schools in the neighborhood lacking many basic educational necessities, such as libraries and science labs, teachers demanded policy changes. "CPS needs to hold a forum, asking us what we need, what students need, what teachers need," shouted Spry teacher, Robert (who asked that his full name not be used). "When has that ever happened?" The crowd responded with, "Never!"

A recent report in the Chicago Sun-Times about the political corruption of the UNO charter school "network" had been widely read, and many in the crowd has first hand experience with how UNO's charter schools cherry pick students from the area's real charter schools.

After the night of spirited public commentary, CPS closed the hearing with a fizzle, leaving some wondering what the next steps are. While, in the bleachers, a 6-year old child with his hand curled in a small fist, cried out, "Just because we're little, doesn't mean you can bully us."

Judging on the 1000+ in attendance at the February 6 hearing, maybe we aren't that little. "Overflow crowds at the February 6 CPS school closing meeting for the Pilsen Little Village Network," Alix Gonzalez Guevara, an area teacher, reported. "Before the meeting began, the main room was standing room only when CPS stopped letting people in. The second floor overflow room was also at capacity when the community refused to sit through the CPS Power Point. The majority of people in the overflow room then returned downstairs and began an impromptu protest, chanting 'open the door', for the duration of meeting, as police used their bikes to blockade anyone from entering the packed room."

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