Raucous School-Closing Meeting Draws Cops

By Chloe Riley on February 7, 2013 9:08am | Updated on February 7, 2013 11:46am

LITTLE VILLAGE — Police barricaded the doors at a Wednesday night Chicago Public Schools meeting as upset parents, teachers and students clamored to get in to discuss potential school closings in Pilsen and Little Village.

More than a thousand people gathered in the auditorium at Arturo Velasquez Institute, including parents and teachers who pleaded their school’s case.

Before representatives from the schools could present their arguments, many in the crowd began chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

Additional seating was provided for the overflow, but it was in a separate room with no live feed of the presentation, and only one person relaying the presentation as it was happening.

Because of the limitations of that room, those who were not allowed inside the main meeting room attempted to break into the auditorium toward the beginning of the school presentations. Police barricaded those entrances, and the presentations were able to continue.

Police said there were no arrests.

A Chicago Public Schools official at the meeting declined to comment.

There are 38 potential school closures in Pilsen and Little Village. 

Maria Bahena, who said she was born and raised in Pilsen, said that if all four schools near her are closed, her sister and nieces and nephews will no longer have a neighborhood school.

Bahena, 32, was outside the auditorium at 2800 S. Western Ave. for most of the meeting. She said she and other parents and teachers fought to get into the meeting because they wanted to hear firsthand what was being said.

She blamed CPS for not being adequately prepared for the crowds.

“I was supposed to be speaking, and I got stuck out here. It’s like, ‘If you can’t do this right then reschedule it. It’s obvious you guys are not prepared,’” she said of CPS.

School representatives had about 10 minutes each to make their cases, and many teachers and students who spoke were emotional.

Marco Reyes, a seventh-grader at Madero Middle School, 3202 W. 28th St., walked right up to the edge of a desk where members of the board sat and said it was not fair for them to close his school.

“Where am I gonna go? I’m gonna give up on myself if they give up on me,” he said after he spoke to the board. “That’s why I started breaking up in tears.”

Panel members listened to the school presentations without response. 

Both Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) spoke to the crowd. Solis was booed.

Solis, who in the past has supported charter schools, released a statement Thursday morning highlighting his past efforts to prevent school crowding.

But before the meeting — and the “boos” —  Solis stressed that the Pilsen community was on his side.

“Our community is organized, our community is concerned, and our community agrees with my position,” he said.

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