Daley's Got Boundary Issues

Confused about Fenger criticism

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley said that the city will not draw school boundaries based on gang turf.

    When it comes to the role of newly drawn school boundaries contributing to youth violence like the Derrion Albert incident, Mayor Daley is both right and wrong.

    But he's mostly wrong because -- as usual -- he doesn't seem to understand the criticism that's being leveled toward his administration.

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    He's only right if one looked at the issue microscopically.

    To recap: Some parents, students and policy advocates say that when a school serving kids from the Altgeld Gardens public housing development was turned into a military academy, sending many Altgeld kids to Fenger High School instead, the new boundaries crossed gang territory in a way that endangered students like Albert.

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    Rev. Jesse Jackson, for example, wants the city to allow those kids to attend a community school instead of Fenger, for example.

    That may or may not be a good short-term solution to Fenger in particular, but on the whole it's a bad idea.

    Daley explains why:

    "The day that the city of Chicago decides to divide schools by gang territory, that's the day we have given up the city."

    You can't let gangs dictate school boundaries - not only because you cede control of the city to them, but because gang territories shift. It would be impossible to keep up with.

    But Daley misses the big picture. The criticism isn't so much about aligning school boundaries with gang territory as it is the ignorance with which the city is redrawing boundaries as it closes some schools and opens others.

    Where are the street smarts?

    You don't just leave kids to fend for themselves.

    School officials should have enough street knowledge to anticipate turf wars and act pre-emptively through a combination of measures including meeting with police, community leaders, the students themselves and, if need be, gang leaders.

    Moreover, the city is just duplicating one of the many huge mistakes it made when it blew up swaths of public housing high-rises without adequately preparing for what would come next. Many communities are reporting the same sort of problems - an influx of rival gang members in their neighborhoods who used to live in public housing and now are caught in new turf wars - as we're seeing in new school boundaries.

    The point isn't to concede anything to gangs. But refusing to acknowledge their existence is proving to be deadly.

    Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.