A panel put together by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new schools chief was out with an initial, striking recommendation Thursday: don't close any schools.
The opinions of the Commission on School Utilization come after nearly a dozen public meetings in which the panel heard from parents, teachers, students, administrators and community activists.
The first recommendation was a big one: "Take high schools off the table," the commission said in its report, released Thursday.
Doing so would put too many children at risk of crossing gang boundaries, one of the many concerns parents have expressed throughout the entire discussion of school closures.
“Children should not have to travel through dangerous territory simply to get to and from school,” the commission. “Threats to student safety by intermixing students from different neighborhoods are greatest for high school students.”
The panel also suggested that CPS should keep its hands off of schools that are performing well, that are in the process of adding grades, that enroll more than 600 students, that are underutilized but "close to efficient utilization," and those that have already experienced "significant school action," such as a "turnaround."
When the Chicago Teachers Union strike ended last year, many teachers turned their attention to fighting school closures, believing CPS officials secretly had plans to close about 100 of them in an effort to save money.
“I look forward to giving the report a thoughtful review over the next few days to consider their recommendations,” schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement. “We face a very real and very daunting financial crisis that threatens everything in our District, which is why the work of the Commission and its feedback from the community is so critical.”
But the commissions recommendations are just that: recommendations. Byrd-Bennett could accept some or all of them or reject them outright. District officials have said no decisions will be made until the commission's final report comes out in March.
Following the release of Thursday's report, the CTU echoed its call for a complete moratorium on school closures.