Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis called for a “push back” from parents and teachers at Rainbow PUSH Coalition Saturday, saying that they cannot allow themselves to be fooled by a plan to close several Chicago Public Schools.
“It is time for us to take back our schools,” she said. “How many times are we going to continue to allow ourselves to be fooled by people who do not understand the lives of our children?”
The CTU president has not held back her disapproval with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed plan to shutter 54 schools.
And Lewis is not alone.
Hundreds of teachers and their supporters gathered in Chicago’s Loop on Wednesdays in a massive, hours-long protest that included more than 100 citations being issued but no physical arrests.
"People are very upset about this as if their voices are never heard," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. "This is another reason why we need an elected, representative school board. We need to wrest mayoral control. It is a mess. It has caused this."
But as he'd done in day's past, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said closing the more than four dozen schools -- the largest school consolidation in the nation's history -- was the best way to improve education in the country's third-largest school district.
"Keeping open a school that is falling short year-in and year-out means we haven't done what we are responsible for; not what our parents did for us and what we owe every child in the city of Chicago," the mayor said.
Critics say the closings disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will uproot kids who need a stable and familiar environment in which to learn. They also worry that students will have to cross gang lines to get to a new school, and that the vacated buildings will be blight on already struggling communities.
Byrd-Bennett has said care has been taken to ensure the safety of the nearly 30,000 students who would be affected.
"I want to ensure that every single child will be safe," she said. "We've increased the opportunity for our Safe Passage program.
We are working very directly with CPD to ensure that police presence is there in the morning and the evenings when our children are coming to and from school."
Jadine Chou, the Chief Safety and Security Officer for CPS, said the Safe Passage program is already successful in 35 high schools and four elementary schools.
Byrd-Bennett has said the district has about 100,000 more seats than students at a time the district is facing a $1 billion deficit.
Each closed school, she's said, would ultimately save the district between $500,000 and $800,000, saving the district $560 million over 10 years in capital costs and an additional $43 million per year in operating costs.
Union officials openly question those figures, saying the formulas have been manipulated and that the planned school closures are just a path to privatization and charter schools.
The Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed closures on May 22. If approved, the closings would take effect at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.