Board approves school closings, turnarounds

February 22, 2012 8:45:50 PM PST
The Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to close or turn around more than a dozen public schools Wednesday evening.

The board views the decision as an opportunity to help 7,500 students in 17 low-performing schools. But its actions sparked a lawsuit and an emotional outburst after the vote.

Parents and community activists who opposed the plan booed and made obscene gestures after the vote. Some left angry and in tears.

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel, you said you were going to give us change," said Carolina Gaete, community member. "You've changed things for the worse. And the board? This is a dictatorship!"

"I do not understand. We trying to work with them, but they're giving us the boot every time," said Latrice Watkins, a parent at Piccolo Elementary, one of the schools slated to be turned around.

Board members said the closings and turnarounds are necessary because the schools did not show enough improvement and they wanted to help the students.

"We have created a climate when mediocrity is okay for our kids," said Dr. Mahalia Hines, CPS board member. "It's not okay with me. And I don't care if I was appointed or elected. As I've said before, my constituents are the kids."

"I had an opportunity to give additional resources and help to students who need it most, and we took it," said Jesse Ruiz, CPS board vice president. "We didn't turn the opportunity away, we didn't turn our back on those kids."

The teacher's union disagreed, filing an injunction to stop the board's actions.

"It is not the teachers, parents and community that have failed our students. It is this district," said Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union.

Crane High School will be phased out, but the community and parents put together a proposal for a new health sciences school to open in 2013. Their alderman presented the plan and both sides agreed to work together.

"This is what we want to happen in the community, that parents are motivated to make sure that their kids get the best education that they can get," said Alderman Walter Burnett, 27th Ward.

The tension had been building for weeks as parents held sit-ins, marched silently in front of the Mayor's home, and lined up Wednesday morning, hours before the meeting.

Some say it's not over.

"There will be an elected school board in Chicago," said Jitu Brown, Dyett Local School council member. "All they're doing is energizing the people. That's all they're doing."

Two legal items follow: the teacher union's lawsuit and House Bill 4487, which calls for a moratorium on school closings and turnarounds. More representatives have thrown their support behind that bill the last few days.