Despite hours of testimony from opposition, numerous sit-ins and marches, the Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday evening unanimously approved a plan to shutter seven schools and "turnaround" 10 others.
"While the decision I made is a tough one ... it was an informed one," said board member Dr. Mahalia Hines.
The schools eyed by the plan are among the lowest performing in the district for the past 10 years, but protesters said the closures would tear apart their communities and force kids to cross gang boundaries to get to class.
School board members listened to comments from 81 people, the majority of whom were opposed to the proposal. Among them was Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who said the plan was akin to "education apartheid."
But Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said the outpouring of support for the schools warranted more discussion on the matter.
"They didn't say that they didn't want the school to change. They accepted the change because they knew that the school needed to do better because they wanted better for their children. What they said is, 'We want the school to change, but we want you to work with us on the change,'" said Burnett.
Earlier this week hundreds of community activists, teachers and parents marched toward Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home to protest the elimination or turnaround of the schools.
They carried signs during the march and wore symbolic stickers over their mouths to demonstrate how they felt shut out of the decision-making process.
Chicago Public Schools has said the turnarounds and closures are meant to break away from methods that have failed students in the past.
“What has been tried in the past has not worked and going back to the same failed policies is not in the best interest of our students," the district said in a statement this week. "For the first time in many years, we are putting the academic needs of our students first."
The Academy for Urban School Leadership, the turnaround company embraced by Emanuel and schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard, posted bigger test score gains than CPS-run schools.
"It really does improve the lives of their children. It improves the lives of the community as a whole," said Alice Henry, principal of the AUSL-run James Weldon Johnson Elementary School.
Board member Jesse Ruiz suggested that he wished more schools could have been a part of Wednesday's vote.
"It's also unfortunate there are more schools like them. The worst thing I felt bad about is we couldn't do this for more kids today," he said.