Low turnout for CPS community meeting on school closings

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More Chicago Public Schools officials attended the first round of community meetings for Austin’s Horatio May Elementary and Louis Armstrong Elementary than parents, teachers and community residents combined.

Thanks in part to a last-minute effort by local residents to save the four Austin elementary schools slated for closure, few members attended the May and Armstrong community meeting Saturday because they’re troubled by comments Mayor Rahm Emanuel made suggesting the decisions are final.

After the list came out in late March, Emanuel defended CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s decision, saying the time for negotiation is over.

“We felt disrespected by the mayor’s comments and that motivated us,” said Dwayne Truss, Raise Your Hand board member and an Austin resident. “[His comments] were cocky, arrogant and disrespectful.”

Instead of going to voice concerns at the CPS organized community meeting held at Austin Community High School, Truss and others fighting to keep the schools open held a boycott meeting at May, 512 S. Lavergne Ave.

“Why should we go to a CPS community meeting in which the mayor said it doesn’t make any difference?” Truss said.

In a press release issued after Saturday’s meetings, CPS officials said, “today’s meetings have been very peaceful, productive and without incident.”

Officials at the Austin meeting declined to comment on the low turnout.

Only two residents spoke at the May and Armstrong meeting, and both had attended the event at May earlier that day. The meeting started at 10 a.m., but the first speaker didn’t come on until nearly noon. CPS officials and the lingering crowd sat quietly during the entire meeting.

“We oppose, oppose, one more time for the holy ghost, oppose school closings, turnarounds and redirections – or whatever CPS wants to call them,” said Wanda Hopkins, assistant director for Parents United for Responsible Education and a liaison for South Austin Community Coalition Council.

She said CPS officials taking information before entering the auditorium urged her to speak.

Hopkins, whose children attended CPS schools in the 1980s, said former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley asked her over two decades ago why she advocates for public schools, and she replied, “the reason why I advocate for Johnny, is because I don’t want him to kill my children, who I know are going to make it.”

“If I can make sure Johnny gets what he needs, then he will not be there to do something to my child,” she said.

Catherine Jones, the second speaker at the meeting also voiced concern about the children’s safety. She said it’s too dangerous for children to cross the busy streets and gang lines to get to their new receiving schools.

Jones was part of a five-person parent patrol team at Francis Scott Key Elementary. The members made sure traffic slowed down around children and the kids got into the building safely.

“Our kids shouldn’t be put in that predicament,” she said.

Truss attended the community meeting near the end of the three-hour scheduled time to tell CPS officials there’s an alternative plan in the works.

“I came so we had something on record for the board so that they can never say that we didn’t present an alternative,” Truss said.

Elce Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Community Coalition Council, Lilangel Logan, member at the Austin Education Committee and Truss drafted the substitute proposal, which they will present to the community before providing it to CPS.

The alternative suggests keeping May, Armstrong, and Robert Emmet Elementary open, moving Francis Scott Key Elementary into the same building with Frederick Douglass High School and doing an alternative and cost effect turnaround for Leslie Lewis Elementary, among other actions.

“We want to show that we are behind all of our schools,” Truss said.

The second community meeting for May and Armstrong is scheduled for April 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Austin Community High School campus. The first community meeting for Emmet and Key will be held April 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Austin Community High School Campus.

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