Huge protest shuts down first hearing on school closings on January 28

Huge protests are unfolding this week as parents, teachers, children and some political leaders are planning to turn out in force in opposition to the plans by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to shut down as many as 150 of the city's real public schools and turn their buildings, in many cases, over to unproven of "failing" charter schools virtually for free. The hearings, which are being scheduled by the Chicago Public Schools, are part of the process leading up to the publication of a list of schools to be closed that is due on March 31, 2013. That date, instead of a legally required date of December 1, 2012, was requested by Emanuel and the latest schools Chief Executive Officer, Barbara Byrd Bennett, in November 2012.

Protesters oppose the school closings at the CPS hearing at Truman College on January 28, 2013. Photo courtesy of DNA.Two major reports have come in so far, and another is expected on January 30. The first here is from DNA Chicago.

UPTOWN — Chanting "Save our schools" and "No school closings," several hundred parents, teachers and community members refused to let Chicago Public Schools officials speak during a public hearing on school closings Monday night in Uptown.

Attendees filled the bleachers and stood against the wall at Truman College for the opening meeting in the second phase of community hearings being held around the city on the district's plan to close underutilized schools.

But district officials had a tough time even making a prepared presentation as crowds shouted and chanted. As one official tried to outline the district's vision, someone shouted, "Do you believe him?" "No!" the crowd answered.

Craig Benes, who oversees schools in the North Side's Ravenswood-Ridge region, was even heckled as he at one point said he wanted "to just step away from the agenda for a moment and speak from my heart. ... I understand that teachers and parents are concerned" — but he asked for the audience's ear.

He did not get it. The crowd started chanting, "Save our schools! Save our schools!"

The meeting got so heated that the principal at Brenneman Elementary School, 4251 N. Clarendon Ave., decided to leave along with the dozens of children who had come with her.

After the first part of the meeting, Uptown activist Ryan Polker, 22, whose dad and grandparents were teachers, grabbed a microphone at the front of the gym and screamed, "The voice of teachers, students, neighborhoods, are not being heard. ... The community feedback is simple, just one sentence: zero school closings."

Some, including teachers from Stockton Elementary School, 4420 N. Beacon St., refused to attend the breakout sessions designed to gain input from the community later in the meeting. The meetings were run by independent facilitators who don't work for the district, which was criticized by some at the meeting.

Education activist Tim Furman was furious the district planned to bar members of the media from the sessions.

"Reporters ask questions to find the truth," he said.

At a later breakout session with about 40 people, the mood was more subdued. But parents still expressed concern they didn't know what was going to happen.

"CPS is keeping parents in the dark about their plan," said Josh Hartwell, who has two kids who attend Gale Community Academy. "We as parents are concerned."

At another session focusing on Uptown schools, parents expressed concerns about shuffling kids around in a neighborhood with ongoing gang tensions; closing schools without accounting for the high percentage of special Ed and special needs; and the proliferation of charter schools.

Benes refused to comment to a reporter at the meeting.

But district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement issued beforehand that "it is crucial that our school communities are active participants in this process and that they receive the respect they deserve by being involved on the front end of this process. I urge all members of our school communities to attend both meetings in their area so that their input and feedback can inform my team as we continue this important work.”

The district is expected to settle on a final list of schools slated for closure in March. The district has said that all high schools and any high-performing school would not be closed.

The schedule for the rest of the meetings across the city this week is as follows:

• Tuesday: Midway Network at Daley College, 7-9 p.m.

• Tuesday: O’Hare Network at Wright College, 7-9 p.m.

• Wednesday: Lake Calumet Network at Olive Harvey College, 7-9 p.m.

• Thursday: Austin-North Lawndale Network at Friendship MB Church, 7-9 p.m.

• Saturday: Englewood-Gresham Network at Kennedy King College, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Read more:


What I experienced last night on Chicago’s north side at the first of two dozen CPS community hearings on school closings, which took place at Truman College.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, above, missed the CORE meeting that nominated him for a second term because he was part of the parent, teacher and community protest at Truman College on January 28, 2013. Above, Sharkey, who is the father of two boys attending Chicago's real public schools, was interviewed by CBS during the Truman College event. Photo by Michael Harrington.Following the school board's aborted dog and pony show at Truman College

-- hundreds of parents, neighbors, and students shut it down –

-- a CBS reporter snagged Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey. Sharkey explained our union's opposition to disastrous school closing plans.

-- School executives who claimed they "really care" about educating our students were greeted with boos and catcalls for 40 minutes before calling it quits.

Two things were on the minds of the parents, students, teachers, school staffers, good neighbors, homeowners, and taxpayers who attended this meeting:

(1) Evidenced by the things they said, the majority of people were very aware of the policy issues and the negative impact on the children they love and/or serve.

(2) The majority came to the meeting harboring a profound DISTRUST for and feeling of BETRAYAL by the school administrators that are managing our school system. "Elected School Board" shouts continued to echo around the room before the spectacle ended.


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