West Siders Fear Loss of Safe Havens if Schools Close

By Darryl Holliday and Geoff Ziezulewicz  on February 14, 2013 9:25am

 Parents said West Side school closures would expose kids to more "gang and drug violence" instead of safe classrooms.
Parents said West Side school closures would expose kids to more "gang and drug violence" instead of safe classrooms.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

LAWNDALE — Parents and community members outside Crown Community Academy Thursday morning expressed concern about the school's future — and the problems that could come if CPS shutters the Lawndale school.

Wednesday night, Crown was named on a list of potential closures released by CPS. Parents, teachers and students packed a Lawndale church after the list was released.

Nearly all of the auditorium-style seats in the House of Prayer Church of God in Christ were filled with residents eager to speak out against closing any schools on the list.

Several aldermen, including Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Bob Fioretti (2nd), Deborah Graham (29th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Michael Chandler (24th), joined to protest the closings as a row of CPS officials looked out on the crowd.

Of 129 possible school closures, 16 are in the Austin/Lawndale network, the third highest total for one grouping on the list, according to the announcement posted Wednesday night.

Access to social services for vulnerable youths and fear that many kids would be subject to more violence were among top concerns as speakers took to the microphone.

"I'm sick of going to funerals [and] I'm sick of going to jails, because our kids need to be in the classrooms," Ervin said.

Janice Thompson said several of her kids attend Crown Elementary. Her 10-year-old niece, Jada Price, a Crown student, stood quietly by her side before announcing that she's an honor roll student and has had perfect attendance since first grade.

"What are you gonna do when all our kids have to cross these roads in gang and drug violence?" Thompson said.

CPS "will be responsible — look at everything that's going on now," she later said as another parent took to the stage. "Where will our kids go and what will they do? Why would they take our kids out of the community?"

Trina Carter works for A Safe Haven Foundation and said her office, which serves 400 residents, is across the street from Chalmers Elementary, another school potentially on the chopping block.

 Janice Thompson said West Side school closures would expose kids to more "gang and drug violence" instead of safe classrooms. Her niece, Jada Pride, said she's an honor- roll student with years of perfect attendance.
Janice Thompson said West Side school closures would expose kids to more "gang and drug violence" instead of safe classrooms. Her niece, Jada Pride, said she's an honor- roll student with years of perfect attendance.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

"Without Chalmers we would not be able to serve those children, who are homeless ... I know for a fact that Chalmers makes that happen," she said.

"No one knows how much money you have when you walk into Chalmers because you're treated like a human being."

Thursday morning, parents and neighbors echoed these sentiments.

Henry LeFlore, 44, an area resident who attended Crown as a child, said the school has helped shield students from the streets.

"They don't see the impact this might have socially," LeFlore said of CPS.

Janice Thompson, 37, a parent volunteer whose 6-year-old twins go to Crown, said the school has given her children a quality education — and that she doesn't want them going elsewhere.

"It would affect my family badly," she said.

Schools that aren't on the list released Wednesday evening could still be subject to "possible other types of action, like co-location, or being a receiving school, or something of that nature," Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler told DNAinfo.com Chicago.

The list isn't final, and will remain under consideration until the remaining 14 community meetings have been conducted. It's been significantly trimmed since CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett first revealed which schools were at risk of closure.

"Where would my kids go?" Thompson asked. "Why would we have to go to another community? The kids need this."

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