At public hearings, some protesters have warned the mayor will have “blood on his hands” if one child at Manierre is hurt because they were forced to attend Jenner Academy in the heart of rival gang territory.
A similar refrain has been spouted by parents at the 54 other schools slated to close as part of the largest public school consolidation in U.S. history — especially the 11 schools that independent hearing officers recommended the school system not close next year.
On Wednesday, Emanuel said he’s heard them loud and clear — and accepts that responsibility.
“I take what people say as we work through these issues seriously, regardless of who says it,” the mayor said. "This is a very difficult issue, but it's really difficult leaving a kid in a school that’s failing. … Whenever anybody is hurt in the city, I have a responsibility regardless if I did anything here or not. I’m responsible.”
The mayor said the number of Chicago Public Schools students who graduate from high school and attend college have reached record highs, but 56 percent of African-American male students drop out.
And that’s what’s driving his push to close underutilized and failing schools, he said.
“Don’t I also have a responsibility for that?” Emanuel said. “So my responsibility doesn’t start just because of consolidation, a school action, a child is harmed. My responsibility starts when the doors to the future of the child are closed because we did not take responsibility and were not accountable for making the tough decisions that are necessary to build a better future.”
Emanuel and CPS boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett have been called racist for targeting schools in mostly African-American neighborhoods for closure.
Emanuel suggested part of the decision to close schools in those neighborhoods was aimed at improving the academic success rate for black male students.
“We are held accountable and responsible when over half of the African-American adolescents are dropping out,” he said. “And I am accountable as a parent, as a teacher, as a principal to turn that number around.”