An estimated 500-600 people packed the Church of God in Christ in the city's Austin-North Lawndale neighborhood to protest planned school closures. Dick Johnson reports.
At a west side community meeting on Wednesday, one of 14 scheduled to take place in the next couple of weeks, parents and community members made it clear they came to speak and not listen to officials' rationale about pending school closures.
"Our kids need their schools. What are you going to do when our children have to cross these roads in gang and gun violence? Don't take our schools," parent Janice Thompson told the school board officials on hand.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett earlier in the day announced more specific criteria for which schools might be closed under the CPS's "Utilization Crisis." More than 200 schools that had been considered for closure have been removed from consideration, leaving 129 on the chopping block.
In the Austin-North Lawndale neighborhood, the potential number of schools on the closure list was reduced from 38 to 16.
Still, to those who gathered, and to the Chicago alderman who joined them at the Church of God in Christ, at 3531 W. Roosevelt Rd., 16 is still far too many.
"No more school closings," Ald. Bob Fioretti shouted into a microphone, drawing cheers from those in attendance.
But Bennett insists the research has already been done and cuts must be made.
"We've lost, in the last decade, 145,000 children," she said Wednesday evening. "We have 100,000 seats that are not being utilized."
She confirmed that schools will be closed but denied that she knew which ones those were or that she even had a final number in mind.
"The list should be zero. There should be no schools closed this year. They haven't made the case. The process has been corrupt from the get-go, and they need to stop it in its tracks right now," said Erica Clark with the group Parents 4 Teachers.
Bennett scoffed at conspiracy theorists who argue the closures are motivated by a desire to empty some buildings so they can be used as charter schools.
A final list of recommended closings will be produced by March 31.