Mayor Rahm Emanuel is aware that his investment plan to shutter 54 elementary schools, affecting nearly 30,000 students, will be difficult for many families and school employees, but he’s confident the plan will positively impact young students in the future, he said in a press conference Saturday.
“The anguish and the pain that comes from making the change is less or minimal in my view compared to the anguish that comes by trapping children in schools that are not succeeding and trapping children in schools that will not give them the opportunity and all the doors that will open in the future,” Emanuel said, speaking publicly for the first time since the closure announcements.
The Mayor has received considerable backlash for his recent decision to shutter 54 schools in Chicago, with some calling the plan “racist” and “classist,” but Emanuel said he’s not buying into their “schoolyard taunts.”
“I’m not interested in throwing terms around or schoolyard taunts I'm interested in making sure that the schools are achieving what they’re set up to do,” Emanuel said.
Though many opposing groups and outraged parents aren’t planning to give up their fight any time soon, Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis said she’s willing to call for a truce.
“Let’s put aside any differences we may have against one another,” she said, though she didn't make clear what that truce would call for.
Lewis and Emanuel have had a callused relationship, disagreeing in several CPS issues, and Lewis did not hesitate to vocalize her concerns on the closures, saying the mayor was "abandoning" the schools.
More than one Chicago aldermen said they believe the commission's work was a charade, arguing that all of the targeted schools were targeted from the beginning.
"I think they set them all up for failure," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). "And then what they set up even worse was the communities and the parents and the faculties and the administration against each other."
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said it wasn't "rocket science" as to why many of the schools eyed for closure or consolidation are on the south and west sides of Chicago.
"That's because they haven't put the resources in there," she said.
Even those who support the initiative’s mission are concerned the closures could lead to overcrowding, more violence and unsafe school routes.
“Yes our schools are under resourced, our kids need more, an iPad is wonderful but not at the expense of having to merge with three or four gangs in one building that your child’s not familiar with,” said Raise Your Hand member Wendy Katten, who protested the mayor outside his conference. “It’s not conducive to learning.”
Emanuel said increased security cameras around schools and increased security measures inside schools along with the Safe Passage initiative for commuting students are some of the ways the commission plans to combat safety issues with the proposal.
Implementation of the changes, intended to provide every Chicago youth with a quality education, will be supervised by Emanuel and his staff along with the commission.
Emanuel said the current state of Chicago schools is discriminatory for children based on where they live or where they’re from.
“That’s not right,” he said. “That’s not who Chicago is. That’s not what we can be.”