Mayor Rahm Emanuel wasn’t present, but mayoral representative Felicia Davis came out to receive the letter from students with Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, a leaderless group. She appeared after the group continuously chanted, “We want Rahm! We want Rahm!”
The letter highlighted some key demands, including a moratorium on school closings and an elected school board.
An elected school board would require a change in state law. Ninety percent of city residents in 327 precincts voted for an elected school board in a survey-like question that was included on last November’s general election ballot.
But the Illinois General Assembly would have to change state law before Chicago residents would be able to select the Chicago Board of Election; Chicago is the only city in Illinois whose mayor appoints its school board members.
Angelique Roberts, a junior at Lane Tech College Preparatory High School, said a moratorium would allow schools to improve their programs and perhaps better use buildings.
An officer in the building said he wasn’t surprised that the mayor wasn’t present to receive the letter.
“Think about it. If he came out to this group, he’d have to come out to every single group that wanted to see him. He could be doing other important things that he needs to do as mayor,” said Officer Clark, who declined to give his first name.
The group held a press conference Monday morning at the CPS Headquarters, 125 S. Clark St., before heading to the mayor’s office to address the students’ main concerns about the slated closure of 53 city elementary schools and one high school.
Students discussed a number of issues, highlighting safety and class sizes. It appears that no Austin-area students are part of the organization.
“The sad reality we face is that many of us are living in a community where there are gangs,” said Israel Munoz, an 18-year-old student at Kelly High School in Brighton Park.
Munoz said he fears for young students who will have to travel farther to get to their new schools next year, especially in communities that experience regular street violence.
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) told the Chicago Tribune that CPS needs to solidify plans for students who will cross well-known gang territory next year, such as students from the closing Francis Scott Key Elementary, 517 N. Parkside Ave.
“I believe they are working on it, but it’s time to hold their feet to the fire and have them produce it,” Graham told the Tribune.
Key students will have to cross Lake Street and past the Green Line’s Central stop to get to Duke Ellington Elementary School. Battery and theft are among the seven reported crimes this year on the 5600 block of West Lake Street this year — where students would be crossing — according to the city’s data portal.
Roberts, the Lane Tech student, said she’s lucky she only has to take one bus to get to the school from her West Englewood home.
“I’m very privileged in that sense,” she said. “Not every parent has the luxury of putting their kid on a bus.”
Many of the group’s members argued that as schools merge, students will be less likely to receive individual attention.
Classrooms in schools across the city are already filled to the brim, said Brian Stirgus, another high school-age group member. He said combining students under one roof will only make it more difficult for children to get the individual attention they may need.
“It’s a bigger load on the same teaching staff,” he said. “Why would you fill classrooms to capacity? You’re taking away from individual learning.”
Stirgus added that he’s afraid students’ parents will find it harder to get kids to school, which in turn will lead to a lower attendance.
Roberts said if there’s no response to their big letter, students may plan to directly go to the mayor, but she declined to explain further.
Several high school students like Roberts, Stirgus and Munoz are rallying against school closures, even though high schools aren’t on the final closure list.
“An attack against one of our schools is an attack on public education,” said Roberts.