NEAR WEST SIDE — Race and income are key factors that play into the city's decision to close schools, charged attendees of the latest in series of meetings to discuss the proposed closings Monday night.
More than 400 parents, teachers and students turned out for the Fulton network school closings meeting at First Baptist Congregational Church, with many equating the closing of their school to losing their home.
“What communities are being affected by these decisions to close the schools? Is it not the communities of color?” community activist Joel Rodriguez said. “Seems like some sick form of 'Hunger Games,'” he said.
Rodriguez, who has four children at Lafayette Elementary, said he does not know where his kids will go if the school closes, as several nearby schools are also on the chopping block.
In a statement handed out at the meeting, Chicago Public Schools states that about 50 percent of its schools are underutilized. In the Fulton network alone, CPS lists 30 schools as underutilized.
“My first question is, where is the board of education?” said Sarah Chambers, a 26-year-old teacher who spoke on behalf of Jonathan Burr Elementary School.
“If they’re not here, what does it say about how much our input is actually valued in this decision-making process?” she added to applause from the crowd.
Many parents and teachers who spoke Monday evening echoed Chambers’ sentiments.
Magdalon Thurmond, a parent at Roque De Duprey Elementary, asked the panel to reconsider closing her kids’ school.
“Instead of subtracting from the school, add a computer lab… add a library so our kids can read more books,” she said.
Thurmond, a stay-at-home mom, said her children's reading skills improved dramatically in just one year at the school.
Duprey Elementary is currently at 28 percent of its potential capacity, with almost 95 percent low-income students, the majority of which are Hispanic and black.
“Duprey is a small school," Thurmond said, "but it’s helping a lot of kids."
Nakrumba Cotton, another Duprey parent, said he sat and calculated the proposed funds that CPS has stated it would need to keep the Fulton Network schools running. He figured it came to about a half million dollars.
“Who are they insulting saying that they can’t infuse a half a million dollars into these schools? I really feel we’re being ripped off, and we just have to say something," he said.
“We’ve seen this build over a number of years, and the community is finally just fed up,” added Xian Barrett, a social science teacher at Gage Park High School. "The idea of kids losing their home, losing their school, is just unacceptable to me."
While each school was scheduled for individual breakout sessions after Monday’s meeting, those were canceled due to the sheer volume of school representatives that needed to speak before the panel.
Three aldermen — Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) — also provided comments at the meeting.
Fioretti, the first to speak, referenced the more than 500 homicides in Chicago in 2012, stressing the importance of neighborhood schools to curbing gang violence.
“Can we have stable, safe neighborhoods without neighborhood schools?" he asked. "No way."