CPS votes to close 50 schools, four in Austin

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Asif Wilson, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Horatio May Elementary Community Academy, will soon be unemployed. His five-year tenure with the school officially ended Wednesday when the Chicago Board of Education voted to shutter an unprecedented 50 public schools.

Austin’s Robert Emmet ElementaryHoratio May Elementary Community Academy, Francis Scott Key Elementary and Louis Armstrong Math & Science Elementary will close next month.

“A lot of feelings and a lot of relationships will be crushed,” Wilson said. “It’s a very demoralizing process. It lets me know that the Board of Education and the mayor’s officer don’t care about how our students feel, or how the community feels.”

Wilson said it’s going to be “very hard” for him to be separated from his students.

“It’s going to be even harder to say goodbye to kids that I built relationships with – kids I call my own sons and daughters,” Wilson said.

After hearing similar testimony for more than two hours and watching security escort protesting residents from the meeting, Chicago Public School’s CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett urged the board to approve her recommendation to close 49 elementary schools and one alternate high school and spare four others.

Marcus Garvey Elementary and Mahalia Jackson Elementary on the South Side, Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy on the West Side and George Manierre Elementary on the North Side will remain open.

“We can no longer embrace the status quo because the status quo is not working for all of Chicago’s children,” Bennett told the board. “We cannot maintain a system that cannot be maintained.”

During her speech, Byrd-Bennett was interrupted several times by protesters saying “I can’t take no more lies” and yelling “children will die because CPS lies.”

After individual public hearings held for each school ended earlier this month, independent hearing officers raised concern about 13 of the schools on the closing list. CPS officials at Wednesday’s meeting said they addressed those concerns.

“This just goes to show you how much of a liar and hypocrite Barbara Byrd-Bennett is,” said Dwayne Truss, a Raise Your Hand board member and an Austin resident. “You set up the process. You get the independent hearing officers. They make their recommendations. And you still say they got it wrong.”

Lettrice Jamison, Emmet’s Local School Council president and mother of three, said she knew this was going to happen – but hoped it somehow wouldn’t. Next school year, her kids are supposed to attend Edward Ellington Elementary or Oscar DePriest Elementary.

“I’m not putting my kids in those schools,” Jamison said. “The DePriest kids had problems with Emmet kids already, so how are they going to get along now?”

She said Ellington denied her kids once before and she doesn’t want them to go there now.

“They weren’t good for your school before, so how are they good now?” Jamison said.

Like Wilson, Chivonda Nelson, a teacher at Key Elementary, 517 N. Parkside Ave., is also out of a job.

“I’ve been looking for another teaching job,” Nelson said. “No luck at all.”

She hopes she can follow her students to Ellington, the welcoming school for Key and some Emmet students.

“Hopefully, I get to travel with the kids,” she said.

Community leaders who attended Wednesday’s raucous meeting touted their concerns with having families leave their neighborhoods, along with other issues.

Joining several other alderman who spoke one at a time , Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) addressed the board Wednesday, voicing her opposition as she had at public hearings held for the four Austin schools. Graham said it’s not right what the closings are doing to her schools – turning one on another.

“I did not like the process of the schools being pitted against each other,” Graham said. “My community is frustrated. A lot of healing needs to take place.”

The Chicago Teachers Union filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education in March seeking a delay of at least a year before any schools are closed. A second lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction on the closings.

Truss said he expects yet another suit.

“We will file a civil rights complaint against the mayor. Not necessarily him but CPS,” Truss said, who holds Mayor Rahm Emanuel responsible for the closings. The mayor appointed all six members of the school board, and he hired the head of CPS.

After Wednesday’s vote Emanuel issued a press release.

“ I want to thank CEO Byrd-Bennett, the board, the commission and the tens of thousands of community members who have played an invaluable role in helping to ensure every child in this city has access to an education that matches their full potential,” Emanuel said in the release.

“I know this is incredibly difficult,” the mayor said in the prepared statement. “But I firmly believe the most important thing we can do as a city is provide the next generation with a brighter future.”

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