CHICAGO — Hundreds of parents, teachers, students and community activists gathered downtown Monday to protest what they called the privatization of public education in Chicago.
Protesters demanded a two-year moratorium on Chicago Public School closings and the adoption of an elected school board, rather than one appointed by the mayor.
"We cannot allow another school to close," said April Stockman of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. She was arrested in a previous protest demanding a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall.
Monday's demonstration made many of the same points, but expanded the argument to take on public funding being siphoned off to charter schools and tax-increment-financing districts.
Protesters marched from Cityfront Plaza, at Illinois and Saint Clair, up Michigan Avenue to the Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile hotel, 633 N. Saint Clair, in part, they said, to illustrate how Hyatt recently drew $5 million in TIF funds for a Hyde Park hotel. Hyatt board member Penny Pritzker also sits on the Chicago Board of Education.
"This is the beginning of a campaign for our schools," said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey. "I think the plan is to shed staff, shed resources by closing schools. I don't think those are pro-school or pro-community proposals the way they are now."
"We should put children first," said Lisa Russell, a Lawndale parent of three CPS students. "I think they're putting them last. ... Education should be the same across the board."
Also Monday, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett published an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune defending her bid to extend a Dec. 1 deadline for the announcement of any school closing for next year to March 31. She said the extra time, which would need to be granted by the General Assembly in Springfield, was needed for a "rigorous and transparent community engagement process that genuinely involves parents, teachers and community leaders." Emanuel echoed that the delay was necessary to allow for additional public input in public remarks Monday.
"That's not really a plan for making schools better," Sharkey said of the closings, adding that the request for a delay was "recognition of the failure of their policies." Like many protesters, he called for a two-year moratorium on closings.
Byrd-Bennett argued many of the schools being targeted for closure are "crumbling buildings filled with empty seats."
Sharkey said that policy was "deeply racist," in that those schools are "entirely on the South and West sides of the city."
He also pointed to plans to build 100 new schools in the city. "That doesn't make any sense to close schools while you're building new ones," Sharkey said. "It doesn't make any sense, unless you understand what's happening here is a conscious policy of school privatization."