Parents fight to save Bessie Rhodes, Evanston-Skokie district's only fully bilingual K-8 school

Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Parents fight to save district's only fully bilingual K-8 school
The Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies is the only fully bilingual K-8 program in Evanston-Skokie School District 65.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- With 275 students enrolled, the Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies is Evanston-Skokie School District 65's only fully bilingual K-8 program.

Until recently, it was scheduled to merge into a new school being built in the 5th Ward. But then, the district ran into financial problems, and now, Bessie Rhodes may go away altogether. A public meeting on Monday night was the last one before the school board puts the matter to a vote next month.

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Those against the school's possible closure rallied and marched from the Bessie Rhodes to that district meeting. Some held signs saying, "Save our school!"

"They have fixated on proving their narrative that's Bessie Rhodes deserves to be shut down and our community, the most diverse in the district deserves to be dismantled," one parent said.

The long list of speakers implored school officials to do the right thing and keep Bessie Rhodes open.

"I ask you to hear us. I ask you to see us. I ask you to make the right decision," said Bessie Rhodes parent Margaret Nash.

Monday night's meeting was at capacity.

"You cannot take the money a thriving diverse school and, at the same time, say you are looking to build diversity, equity, inclusion across the district," said Bessie Rhodes parent Jen Tyler.

It was four years ago when Andrea Infante-Martinez and her husband moved from Skokie into an Evanston home. Their choice was made for one specific reason: So that their son, Olivier, could attend the Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies.

"He went to an all-Spanish preschool, so it was very important to be able to continue that education. Spanish. Diversity. Evanston is very diverse," Infante-Martinez said.

It's the same story for Aide Acosta and her family. So when the school board announced early this year that Bessie Rhodes might have to close at the end of the 2025-2026 school year, parents there sprang into action, organizing to try and stop that from happening.

"It is an injustice to close down a school that is 90% minority, 90% student of color with almost 40% multi-language learners," Acosta said.

District and school board officials say Bessie Rhodes is an underutilized building with significant capital needs. Keeping it open, they say, doesn't make financial sense.

"It breaks my heart. Nothing about this is easy or feels good," said Evanston-Skokie School District 65 Supt. Angel Turner. "Given our student enrollment, it is not sufficient nor fiscally prudent to have the number of schools we do, and all located within approximately 10 square miles."

Closing it, if that's what the board ultimately votes to do, will allow them to eventually expand the bilingual program to other middle schools across the district.

"They said they we're in a financial crisis, and the way to remedy that is to close the school. But my question is, why don't we take a screeching halt? Why are we moving so quickly just to shut it down?" said Bessie Rhodes parent Myrna Garcia.

And while parents believe the public hearings are being held as a formality to what is already a done deal, they vow to continue fighting. The school board is set to vote on the closure of Bessie Rhodes on June 10.