Parents speak at CPS open session on closing schools

April 3, 2013 3:05:49 PM PDT
Supporters and opponents of the plan to close or consolidate 54 Chicago schools spoke at the CPS board meeting.

While there were only modest demonstrations on the outside of 120 S. Clark, speaker after speaker at an open session of the CPS board demanded on Wednesday that members hear their concerns about safety and educational quality stemming from school closing plan.

"We are now being asked to embrace another disaster du jour, labeled 'right-sizing,'" one parent said.

In endorsing the plan to close 54 schools primarily on the South and West sides of Chicago -- affecting the lives of primarily African American and Latino families -- CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett took offense to the notion the plan was racist

"What I cannot understand, and what I will not accept are charges that the proposals that I am offering are racist," Byrd-Bennett said. "That is an affront to me as a woman of color, and it is an affront to every parent in our community who demands a better education for their children."

Security was noticeable but did not have to be exercised to let the meeting run. These parents from North Side Courtenay Elementary say the excellence of their small lottery-enrollment school will erode when it is shifted into the larger confines of half-empty Stockton Elementary as part of the plan to consolidate schools.

"They are taking our name and giving us the underperforming school's model, and expecting us to keep our performance up," Katie Reed, Courtenay Elementary School supporter, said.

There were also supporters in the crowd, including a woman whose children are succeeding in CPS-endorsed charter schools.

"Parents do have the right to choose a successful, well-rounded, high-expectations high school," Marta Almagirre said.

The private non-profit organization Stand for Children gave CPS a "B-" for its communication of the plan, But said reaching out to affected communities softens opposition.

"Schools need to be the right size so they have enough resources for art and music. That's what we're advocating for, for the district to have all they need to better perform and better serve our children," Juan Jose Gonzalez, Stand for Children, said.