CHICAGO — Parents, community members and school staff of Old Town's Manierre Elementary made their last pleas to an independent mediator Tuesday night, not just to keep their school open, but to prevent their children from going to Jenner Elementary.
While some parents told stories of violence their children had faced while crossing Division Street into rival gang territory where Jenner is located, other speakers offered solutions.
Ideas included breaking up the school population and sending kids to nearby Level 1 schools such as Franklin, Ogden, Skinner North, Newberry and Mayer, which all have room for some of the 348 students now enrolled at Manierre.
Another option presented by parents was keeping Manierre open and designating half the building to be used by Lincoln Park's Lincoln Elementary, which is overcrowded to the point that CPS will be leasing six classrooms from DePaul University for the 2013-2014 school year.
Another concern raised by many staff members is the closing of the school's Ferguson Child Parent Center, which provides early childhood education for 3- to 5-year-olds and a safe place for young children of working single mothers.
"Choice one is to send our kids to Jenner, the only Level 3 racially homogenous school in the area, not to mention it's in rival gang territory, or option two is to send them to one of the very high performing schools nearby that actually have room for our kids," said Chris Anderson, a teacher at the Ferguson Child Parent Center.
An independent hearing officer heard rationale for closing the school from a CPS attorney before dozens of those in support of keeping the school open made their points.
CPS argued that Manierre is drastically underutilized, with only 348 students in a school meant to house 960 students and that statistics indicate Jenner is the better school, although it's still a Level 3 school.
While the safety concerns of crossing Division Street have been made clear at multiple community meetings, CPS has stood by its plans for Safe Passage to Jenner.
A CPS official said that some of the practices that will be implemented to curb violence and anticipated problems between Manierre and Jenner students include "peace circles," "peer circles" and "peer juries" to encourage peer-to-peer problem-solving and resolution.