CPS Closings: New School Shutting Guidelines Have Critics Fuming

By Ted Cox on October 2, 2013 3:17pm 

 Despite a promised five-year moratorium on school closings, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has issued new guidelines on possible "school actions" this year.
Despite a promised five-year moratorium on school closings, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has issued new guidelines on possible "school actions" this year.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

DOWNTOWN — Chicago Public Schools have put out new guidelines for possible "school actions," despite a pledge for a five-year moratorium on school closings after 50 were shuttered earlier this year.

But CPS said the guidelines were required by state law before Oct. 1 and that it was simply fulfilling those requirements. The guidelines acknowledged the five-year moratorium and stated, "We reiterate that commitment within these guidelines."

Yet the guidelines also said CPS "may have new school options that will require co-locations."

"While we do not anticipate needing to take action that would reassign current students from one school to another, we would like to preserve the flexibility to consider this as a potential mechanism to resolve overcrowding concerns," the guidelines say.

CPS also held back the possibility of closing schools deemed unsafe.

Those conditions lit a fire Wednesday under critics who warned of overcrowding as a result of the school closings earlier this year.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said CPS officials "made a big deal" during the tumult over the earlier closings "that they were going to stop closing schools for the next five years."

"The intent of their message was if you put up with all this big instability you can appreciate a period of stability for the next five years. And now it turns out they're saying, well, no, we thought of some exemptions," Sharkey charged.

Erica Clark of the grassroots group Parents 4 Teachers said that "there are several loopholes that violate the five-year moratorium pledge."

"Parents really didn't believe that promise when it was made anyway. We expected they'd try to find loopholes," Clark said.

Her interpretation of the new guidelines allows CPS to speed up closings of schools that have already been targeted to be phased out over time.

"Regardless of what you call that action on paper, for those students in those school buildings, you're closing their school," Clark said.

 CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, "There clearly must be plans somewhere to close more schools."
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, "There clearly must be plans somewhere to close more schools."
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Sharkey said the guidelines also allows CPS to consolidate two schools into one school building and simply retain two school names. "There clearly must be plans somewhere to close more schools," he said.

Clark saved her harshest criticism for the safety provisions.

"If children are attending schools that are so unsafe they need to close them, that shows gross misconduct at CPS. [Schools CEO] Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her entire team should lose their jobs," Clark said. "If there are unsafe school buildings, they should fix those schools up immediately and provide teachers and staff the resources they need to do their jobs."

Closings would be allowed if the "the physical condition of the building ... makes the continued operation of the site cost-prohibitive," Clark said, quoting from the guidelines.

"So, it's not really about safety. It's about cost. Basically, if they don't want to spend money on the building, they can close it," Clark said.

CPS spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said CPS is "absolutely not going back on our pledge." 

"In actuality, this year's school-action guidelines uphold the mayor and CPS' commitment to a five-year moratorium on facility closures due to academics or underutilization," Barrett said.

Byrd-Bennett said the guidelines are "part of an ongoing conversation with the community on how every child can have access to a classroom with a challenging, personalized curriculum, clean, safe facilities and an overall supportive school environment that helps them grow and thrive."

The schools CEO promised that "any decisions made will include the voices of our most important stakeholders — the community — through an inclusive, open and transparent manner."

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