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Backlash To Emanuel Grows With Opposition To School Closures

By aaroncynic in News on Apr 19, 2013 4:30PM

Photo credit: Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist

Even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel and supporters of Chicago Public Schools' plan to close 54 schools see the deal as nearly done, parents, students, teachers and community activists have worked tirelessly since the announcement to fight to keep them open. After thousands took to the streets in the Loop last month, various groups across the city have organized smaller protests and spoke out at community meetings, hoping next month the Board of Education will vote no on the closures and associated consolidations and turnarounds.

According to WBEZ, the city is holding more than 190 meetings and public hearings to get feedback on the closures, and community members have attended many in droves to speak out against them. While the meetings have allowed community members a chance to speak out, many advocates and organizations believe the format has done little to make the board listen. In These Times explains:

“...the format is 'designed to ensure that the maximum number of people have an opportunity to have their voices heard,' writes CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler to Working in These Times in an e-mail. 'An open discussion with Q-and-A would cut down on the number of people who could have an opportunity to be heard.'”

Some opposing the closings have said the format does little to create a dialogue with CPS. CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin told In These Times “The format is designed to suppress real input from parents, students and the community.” “It is mostly a one-way street. It is frustrating for parents to not have a dialogue,” said Wendy Katten, co-director of the Raise Your Hand parent’s coalition. Progress Illinois reports at a meeting to discuss the closure of Miriam G. Canter Middle School in Hyde Park, resident Jill Petty said “The fact that you cannot speak back to us when we’re coming to you on our hands and knees to beg for our damn school, it’s outrageous.”

Meanwhile, others have taken to the streets and to City Hall to deliver the same message of opposition to school closures. Last week, parents and activists walked routes children from schools scheduled to be shuttered will walk to their new schools to highlight safety concerns. Emmet Elementary School parents, staff and community members demonstrated and a Board of Education hearing at their school earlier this week. Tammie Vinson, a teacher at the school said in a press release, “Emmet can only be considered under-utilized because CPS has denied us funding for more teachers and classrooms.”

Photo credit: Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist
Yesterday, a group called Jewish Solidarity and Action for Schools delivered a petition to the mayor's office. More than two dozen people took the elevators up to the fifth floor at City Hall, intent on delivering their message to Mayor Emanuel, whose staff told the group he was unavailable. After leading a prayer in the lobby in front of his office on the fifth floor,the group tried to walk their letter in but were prevented by police and told the mayor wasn't in. As organizers chanted outside and a liaison for Emanuel tried to find another representative to take the letter, the group read it aloud in part:

"These discriminatory school closings fly in the face of our Jewish and human values…The proposed school closings would exacerbate inequity, particularly along lines of race and class. They would undermine the promise of our education system to be open to all of us, no matter what neighborhood we live in."

While Emanuel might not exactly be worried currently about the Chicago Teachers Union's plan to make him a one term mayor, that sentiment seems to be growing among Chicagoans. Between the school closures, mental health clinic closures, the CTA hikes and Ventra debalce, attempts to further privatize parts of city services and more, the list of groups seeking to run him out of office in two years is growing.