CPS school closings would hit African-American students hardest, study finds

March 7, 2013 4:19:49 PM PST
Chicago Public Schools' plans to close under-enrolled schools to save money could lead to lawsuits. An analysis of the 129 schools that CPS could close finds that African Americans will bear a large burden of the closures.

The Sun-Times report found 117 of the 129 schools that could close are made up of a majority African-American students. Nine of the schools are majority Hispanic.

In comparison, CPS, as a whole, is 41.6 percent African American, 44 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.

Meanwhile, the commission reviewing the district's plan is siding with CPS in its final report. However, while CPS is eyeing 129 schools, the commission says CPS has the capacity to consolidate 80 schools. The commission is also calling on district officials to consider other factors in deciding which schools to close.

"You need to look at how the school is utilized in community... utilization is important, but not the sole criteria," Frank Clark, Commissioner on School Utilization, said.

In a written statement, CTU President Karen Lewis called the commission's report "outrageous." She wrote, "Given CPS history, there is no way it has the capacity to shut down 13 percent of our entire school district without mass chaos."

CPS officials have already faced backlash at community meetings in recent weeks as parents and community groups protested the closure plan.

Fernwood Elementary School in the Roseland neighborhood is on the list of potential closures, it's more than 97 percent black.

"It hurts the kids. It really hurts the kids because they're comfortable there safe staff here knows all the kids and the parents as well," said Mamie Tolbert, CPS employee.

"You never hear anything like this happening in the white community or anything. It's always something going on in the black community," said Shanoda Redmond, CPS parent.

CPS maintains race is not a factor in the process to close schools, instead it's population decline that has led to school under-enrollment. And district officials say they see the greatest population drops on the South and West sides.

"I think it's crazy because I feel every child deserves a chance," said Esther Gordon CPS parent.

"Every year they close schools, they change the reasons for closing them. It is not about what the reason is. it is the impact, which is on black children," said Lewis.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says a population shift is driving the plan to close schools.

"There has been a change in the city," said Emanuel.

"I think we need to think of a better way to educate black children; clearly something is missing. They have tried a number of things," Lewis said.

CPS argues consolidating kids will provide students with better resources because funding is based on enrollment. Depaul University's Center of Urban Education Director Barbara Radner says instead of closing schools, the city should use empty school space for city agencies in neglected neighborhoods.