One thousand turn out on the cold night of February 11 to oppose 'underutilization' attacks on local schools... Fullerton 'Network' Hearing fills church and gives CPS another earful in opposition to CPS plans
The Logan Square community came out on a frigid and windy February night, February 11, 2012, nearly one thousand strong, to make CPS officials hear them in one voice, â€œDonâ€™t close our schools!â€ Protesters met prior to the official Board of Education hearing at a nearby auditorium, then went to the church where CPS officials scheduled their meeting.
The rally at the Logan Square Auditorium started just after 5:30, with more than 50 parents and students on stage and at least 200 people in the auditorium. It was kicked off by Will Guzzardi, an organizer for "Logan Square United for Brentano," and another community organizer, Cristina Torres. There were representatives with students, parents, and banners from many schools in and around Logan Square, including Ames, Avondale/Logandale, Brentano, Darwin, Funston, and Goethe elementary schools, as well as Kelvyn Park High School.
The underlying theme from every speaker at the rally was that all children need quality public schools in their neighborhood â€” that they can safely walk to. The speakers clearly understood the importance of solidarity amongst the neighborhood schools. They mentioned frequently that any school closed would be a tragedy, which would have a negative impact on the surrounding schools, as well as those who lost their neighborhood school.
There were more than 300 people in the Auditorium by the time the rally started to wind down and people began departing for the CPS closing hearing down the street at Armitage Baptist Church, where CPS officials had scheduled the hearing to begin at 7:00 p.m.
The scene outside the church was one of frustration. With the temperature hovering around the freezing mark and winds gusting above 30 miles an hour, CPS officials were barring the door. At least 200 people stood outside the doors, freezing, waiting to get in, with more people streaming in from the rally that had just let out.
At 6:30, one of the churchâ€™s pastors came out to try to calm the crowd and made an announcement that the doors would open at 6:30, but that CPS was only letting 10 people in at a time to register. The pastor urged repeatedly that, â€œThis is a place of worshipâ€, and â€œWe want a civilized dialogueâ€ before going back into the warmth of the church.
Those in charge were clearly trying to tamp down any militancy in the crowd, and discourage the community from being heard.
As groups of ten were slowly let in, the crowdâ€™s sense of solidarity grew. People helped parents with young children to the doors, and urged the CPS security guards to let them in. The security guards were excessively aggressive, pushing people back and slamming the doors shut after each small group entered.
State Representative Toni Berrios and Alderman Ariel Reboyras were given room to enter and promised to convince CPS officials to open the doors to all immediately, but security did not change the pace of entrance for more than half an hour. Eventually, the crowd simply propped open the doors and were finally able to get out of the cold.
The pastor opened the hearing about fifteen minutes behind schedule with yet another request for a â€œcivilized dialogueâ€, reminding everyone that we were in a â€œhouse of prayerâ€. The church was far beyond its capacity of roughly 600 people when the hearing opened, with more people still arriving. At the peak of attendance, there were well over 800 people packed into Armitage Baptist Church.
The first (and only) CPS official to speak at the opening of the hearing was Phillip Hampton, Executive Director of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). As Hampton was introducing himself, he was immediately â€œmic checkedâ€ and shouted down.
The Logan Square community was not there to be lectured to about schools that need to be closed. They were not going to be separated off into â€œfocus groupsâ€. They were at the hearing to be heard. They chanted â€œSave our schools!â€ and â€œThey say cut back, we say fight back!â€, as well as breaking into an impromptu version of â€œWe Shall Not Be Movedâ€. Hampton again failed in his attempts to engage with the community (whatâ€™s his title again?) by referring to the handouts involving the CPS formulas for â€œutilizationâ€. The crowd responded with, â€œWe need teachers, we need books! We need the money that Rahm took!â€
Hampton eventually ceded the stage to the few elected representatives from the area in attendance.
Alderman Nick Sposato from the 36th Ward asked for â€œrespectful behaviorâ€ in the church, which temporarily quieted the crowd.
Alderman Scott Waguespack from the 32nd Ward spoke next, saying â€œthe system is broken... and weâ€™re here to fix it.â€ He urged that, â€œthe fight starts tonight to make our schools the best they can be â€” neighborhood schools.â€
Alderman Ariel Reboyras was next and immediately dismissed the translator, who had been translating for the Spanish speakers in the house. He spoke at length in Spanish, mostly about the Belmont-Cragin school, and then curiously offered little translation in English.
And finally, State Representative Toni Berrios spoke, beginning with an acknowledgement of State Senator Iris Martinez in the back of the room. (Senator Martinez disappeared from the church not long after, despite being a member of the CPS closing commission â€” and a representative of the area.) Representative Berrios wondered â€œwhether the money will follow the children?â€, and insisted that, â€œwe canâ€™t allow school closures in our neighborhood.â€
Finally, the parents, teachers, students, and community members were allowed time to speak at the hearing. Representatives from each school came up to the microphones to voice their discontent with the CPS bureaucracy, and the possibility that ANY school would be closed. No one from the community spoke for school closures.
Some of the highlights included a member of the Goethe community, who pointed out that her school had grown in enrollment by 40% in the last four years, and that CPS should be planning long-term. Several representatives from Ames, including one outstanding 7th grader, mentioned a poll of their community that revealed a 92% disapproval of CPS plans to make Ames a military school. The 7th grader finished his speech by thanking two of his teachers by name.
In the middle of the communityâ€™s time at the microphone, Alderman Proco â€œJoeâ€ Moreno from the 1st Ward showed up and was allowed time by CPS officials to speak. He was not received well. Moreno was heckled and shouted down by a large number of his constituents in the audience. He tried to shout over the crowd, attempting to pander to the large, organized group of Brentano folks, but it was no use.
After less than five minutes at the microphone, Alderman Moreno gave up and left, followed by a number of catcalls, the most memorable of which was, â€œGrab your skateboard and go, Joe!â€ This reporter is not certain of the meaning of that last suggestion, but it didnâ€™t sound flattering. Many in the crowd were voicing their displeasure with the alderman for having gone on Fox during the CTU strike last year and saying, â€œthis strike is a shameâ€” itâ€™s a shame that theyâ€™re on strike,â€ calling the CTU a â€œconservative unionâ€, while advocating for turnarounds and charter schools as â€œprogressiveâ€ ideas.
The community has spoken, much like communities throughout Chicago, to the mayor, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and their underlings, that we do not believe their lies. We demand that CPS close NO schools. It remains to be seen if CPS officials and the mayor actually care.