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Teachers Union Decries Possible School Closures at Education Summit

By Quinn Ford | December 8, 2012 6:27pm

EAST GARFIELD PARK — Education advocates blasted Chicago Public Schools Saturday, saying the department is targeting "apartheid schools" as it mulls closing underutilized buildings, many of which are in African-American areas.

About 200 parents, community activists, union members and students met at Marshall High School on the city’s West Side for for an "education summit" hosted by the Chicago Teachers Union. The day included workshops aimed at discussing the impending school closures and other issues facing the city’s public school system.

The event kicked off with speeches in the school’s auditorium. Jitu Brown, a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, told the crowd that school closures are “not a game.”

“This is not a joke. CPS cannot be trusted,” Brown said. “My question to all of you is have you had enough? We want a five-year moratorium on school closings now.”

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the crowd they had to fight for their vision of the Chicago public school system.

“Today is about making that vision a reality,” Sharkey said.

CTU members and other community organizations led a number of workshops throughout the day. Union members made the case that underutilized schools were due to the proliferation of charter schools. They also said CPS primarily targets “apartheid schools” — or schools where the vast majority of students are African-American — when deciding which schools to close. Another big topic of conversation was how to continue pushing for an elected school board, something some city residents had a chance to vote on this past November.

Catherine Jones said she came had two sons go through the public school system, and she said she knows first-hand how important it is for parents to get the right information.

“People need to understand exactly what these school closings are and need to understand that they have the power and can speak up,” Jones said.

CPS CEO Barbara Bennett-Byrd has called for a five-year moratorium on school closures, beginning next fall. That means some schools could still be closed. Bennett-Byrd has cited the high number of "underutilized" schools - most of which are on the South and West sides, according to a CPS report - as a reason for considering closures.

"When we consolidate underutilized or half-empty schools, we will be better able to invest those resources across the district for every student," Byrd-Bennett said last month.

Students also attended the summit to learn about the issues and talk about how to make their own schools better. While Theodore Roosevelt High School sophomore Dion Bell said he earned community service hours by attending the summit, he said he was concerned about the possibility of his school, located on the Northwest Side, closing.

“Actually yeah, because I might have to transfer to another school outside my district to somewhere dangerous,” Bell said.