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BOARDWATCH: Community press conference precedes Chicago Board meeting

About 40 people chanting, “Whose schools? Our Schools!” and “Save our schools!”, began the press conference held prior to the February 27, 2013 Chicago Board of Education meeting held at 125 S. Clark St. with a number of speakers. The groups hosting the press conference had previously outlined their position in press releases.

Long time West Side community activist Dwayne Truss (above) helped organize the press conference and later spoke pointedly to the Board about its tradition of lies regarding both the "Underutilization crisis" and the "Billion dollar deficit..." Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Dwayne Truss, organizer of Save Our Schools Neighborhood School Coalition spoke to refute info about the manufactured underutilization crisis created by CPS.Truss was later to speak during the Board meeting as well. “Westside communities and all communities are not believing CPS lies," Truss said. “Our school began as communities and resources to our parents." He note that according to CPS, "46 percent of open seats are in high school and level 1 schools."

Angela Bowman, from Marconi Elementary School, expressed her concerns regarding the safety of the kids and CPS not walking these neighborhoods and seeing what is going on. Concerns include drug and crime infestation and gangs in the neighborhoods. She said that she was worried that with the extended day students would be walking to and from school in the dark and on days with weather like today children 11 and younger would be walking to school in the streets because sidewalks are not shoveled. Also, students would be walking past abandoned buildings.

“Is this safe passage?” she asked, “Are our children going to have to die to get to school?... “Education is not a luxury! Safety is not a luxury! Innocent children are being shot yet CPS is going to put us on the front line... CPS needs to be on the defense. What is the real plan? Stop giving stories and fables to the media. You are worried about your corporations and pockets. You need to answer to us.”

Among those at the press conference who later got into the Board meeting (after being bottled up in the "holding room" on the 15th floor) were parents from May Elementary School. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Rosemary Banks, from May Academy spoke next. She has been a volunteer for 13 years, involved with the PTA, LSC Chair and has received both Volunteer and Parent of the Year Awards. She has had children and grandchildren graduate from May. She said May should be open because it has a lot to offer and is a center to the community and its history. “Struggle makes us better and we need to work for change," she said. She also talked about the great principal, assistant principal, staff and teachers.

“May can reach its goal. This school needs a chance to prove itself," she continued. "Don’t let children be tossed just anywhere. Get your priorities together.”

28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin (above center) is one of the majority of the members of the City Council who has signed a document opposing the closings. He told the press conference there should be no school closings this year. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said “Closing schools makes no sense. It’s wrong to have little kids say save our schools. We want the same things as Lincoln Park for our kids. Give kids the resources they need to be competitive. Fight for our schools and our children’s needs."

Nicky, a representative from the NAACP called for the end of genocide ad educational apartheid. “Greater than 125 of the schools are on the west and south sides.”

Wendy Katten from Raise Your hand talked about special education. Two buildings on the closing list are special needs cluster schools. The Parent Coalition is concerned about school closings impact on the most vulnerable students, special education and homeless. There are more than 6000 special education students. 39 schools have special education needs. The utilization numbers do not match reality. Wendy invited the press out to visit these schools. She is the parent of a student with a 504 plan. “It is difficult to get services in a very stable environment. We can’t let this happen. We are working with special education attorneys.” Margaret Barry lives 1 ½ blocks from her school. “If you move schools how far will students have to walk? Where are they supposed to go?”

Lisa Pugh, Pope Elementary LSC, said their school is not underutilized and scores in math and reading are increasing. She stated their data is reliable and that the press should come out and see the clinic, state of the art library, three recess rooms because it’s not safe to play on the playground, community fitness, art and special education rooms. She’d like to see a full plan from CPS. She stated the school is across the street from her home. She said “CPS should have done the Task Force Facilities Plan first so we wouldn’t be here now. “We have to fight for something we deserve.” Said Torrence Shorter from Ryerson Elementary School.

During the protest about 180 UNO charter parents were marching and chanting across the street. “If this is just a school closing why is UNO out there?” asked Kelvin Sandridge.



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