Chicago teachers protesting school closings rally, march downtown

March 27, 2013 (CHICAGO)

DOCUMENT: List of 54 schools to close

After a rally at Daley Plaza, the group began its march downtown. Their route took them by Chicago City Hall and ended at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters.

Teachers and parents who don't want the consolidation and closings of CPS schools are joined by sympathetic unions, ministers and community organizers. Marchers said there could be civil disobedience, and a handful of people were peacefully removed by police when they sat in the street near City Hall. A Chicago police spokesperson said 127 people who refused to move when asked was ticketed and "promptly" released. There were no physical arrests.

"While police were prepared for what the event organizers predicted to be a crowd of 5,000 or more, there were approximately 700-900 participants, so the event was well-managed and without incident," the Director of News Affairs at the Chicago Police Department Adam Collins said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis spoke at the rally.

"Let's not pretend that when you close schools on the South and West sides that the children who will be affected are black. Let's not pretend that's not racist," Lewis said. "They are closing down schools that have names of African-American icons. But he'll open up schools to put the name of a living billionaire on front."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended closing the "underutilized" schools, saying improvements to the schools have been delayed for years due to politics.

"Keeping a school that is falling short year in and year out, meaning we haven't done what we are responsible, not what our parents did for us, and what we owe every child in the city of Chicago," Emanuel said. He also said the teachers union has been in the loop throughout the process.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she understands and defends the rights of demonstrators to protest school closings and consolidations, defended the plan, reminding parents that the specifics have not been finalized.

She released a statement, "I fully support the rights of individuals to express their opinion and as a former teacher and principal who has lived through school closings, I know this is not easy for our communities. But as CEO of this District, I need to make decisions that put our children first. For too long, children at underutilized schools have been cheated of the resources they need to succeed. Consolidating underutilized schools will allow us to safely move these children to a higher-performing welcoming school near their home with all investments they need to thrive in the classroom. That's my commitment and it's one we will keep when school starts this fall."

Fourth-grader worried about being 'new kid'

One of the 54 schools slated to close is Paderewski Elementary School, where Jainiqua Byrd is a fourth-grader.

"I don't want to leave the school because that school is important to me. It's like a family school to me," Jainiqua said.

Byrd's school family is in the midst of a breakup. The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and fighting over what's best for Chicago Public Schools schools- and its students. Those students, like Jainiqua and her sister, Tanequa, are caught in the middle.

"People went to CPS, they spoke really loud and really clearly and fluently- but I guess it didn't work if they're closing the school down," Jainiqua said.

What are the girls most worried about?

"If I'm going to learn new things," fifth-grader Tanequa said. "If people are going to treat me fair."

Paderewski Elementary is the only African-American majority school in the largely Latino Little Village neighborhood.

"I feel our children won't be safe because they're crossing boundaries," Darlene Williams, parent, said.

CPS says Paderewski is less than-a-third full and has declining enrollment. The plan calls for Paderewski students to be split into two other schools. Cardenas Elementary on the next block - and Castellanos School, which is five blocks away.

"I worry about them, like I worry about Jaylin and Khalil, my grandchildren. I want the children most impacted by this consolidation to have everything those two little boys have. I'd blame myself if they didn't," Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS CEO, said.

For the 30,000 kids effected, the fear is real and understandable.

"I worry about being a new kid and not fitting in," Jainiqua said.

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