Carrying signs and bullhorns, several hundred parents and teachers gathered outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters Tuesday night to rally against the proposed closures, consolidations, and phase outs of 17 under-performing schools.
The protest, initiated by the Chicago Teachers Union and supported by Occupy Chicago, kicked off at 6 p.m. outside the building at 125 S. Clark Street.
About 40 people spent the night in the wind and rain to be first in line for a board meeting that will decide the schools' fate. Though rain reduced their numbers, their message in support of the schools did not waver.
"This is a huge fight for the soul of public education," said CTU president Karen Lewis.
Late last month, CPS officials announced a plan to close 10 schools and reopen them with new teachers and faculty. Others will be closed completely.
"The problem is with CPS. They're saying, 'We're going to give your schools more staff. We're going to give them white boards. We're going to give them all the things that your heart desires that you've never had, [but only] if you get rid of all your teachers,'" said CTU staff director Jackson Potter. "If you send them four miles away in harms way to another building, that's unacceptable."
In a statement, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that while officials have a "deep respect for those who choose to exercise their right to free speech... we make no excuses for taking action on some of the worst performing schools in the district."
"To do nothing and to allow these schools who have been on probation and failing, in some cases 10 to 14 years, I think that's criminal and unconscionable," said CPS President Jean-Claude Brizard.
Some protesters Tuesday night were armed with sleeping bags and tarps, hoping to stay the night for the cause. They got a stern warning from Chicago police, who said public access can't be blocked.
A police commander told a small group of protesters that camping would not be tolerated.
Some want to sleep out to ensure they get heard at CPS' regularly-scheduled board meeting on Wednesday. It opens with public comment, but the public needs to sign up between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. to register to speak with the board. The meetings are usually packed.