KENWOOD — The impending closures of Chicago Public Schools are both an issue of civil rights and safety, a group of activists said after a group of teens were attacked on the playground at a South Loop school earlier this week.
Members of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization said the students formerly at Price Elementary School, 4351 S. Drexel Blvd., have been treated as second-class students after the school was closed the kids were transferred 3½ miles away to the National Teachers Academy.
A violent incident Monday at the National Teacher's Academy, 55 W. Cermak Rd., is being cited as evidence that the CPS approach to closures puts students — especially minority students who attend neighborhood schools — at a disadvantage.
"They always worry about getting jumped on," said Jitu Brown, education organizer for KOCO. "It's a byproduct of shutting down schools. It's dangerous for these young people."
But CPS officials said the transfer of students between Price and the academy has gone well, and said they have been assured the incident Monday did not involve students.
"The transition for all students at NTA Academy has been a safe and seamless process and parents have expressed their satisfaction with the outstanding supports that have been implemented at the school," officials said in a statement.
The incident occurred at 3:35 p.m. Monday — five minutes after school was dismissed — when four teenage boys were attacked by four other males on a playground on the school campus, said Officer Robert Perez, a Chicago Police spokesman.
"It looks like for no apparent reason they were attacking the victims," Perez said.
The four victims were punched and kicked, police said. A 13-year-old boy fell to the ground and was kicked in the head. He was taken to Children's Memorial Hospital in "stable" condition and was kept overnight for observation, Perez said.
One of the alleged attackers was arrested Monday night and was referred to juvenile court, Perez said. The other three haven't been caught.
The police report makes no mention of whether the victims or the attackers were students.
KOCO activists said although they didn't believe the attackers were current students, the attack happened because the victims were "Price kids."
CPS, however, said police told them that the incident did not involve students at either school.
"We have been informed by CPD that last Monday's fight had nothing to do with NTA or Price," the statement said. "In fact, any incidents at the school do not stem from conflicts between NTA and students who formerly attended Price."
Since Price was closed in 2012 due to what CPS deemed "performance" issues, about 110 of its former students started attending National Teachers Academy this school year. Many of them get to school by bus, which until recently had no other adult supervision besides the driver, KOCO members said.
KOCO members said they have been working with the school and CPS officials to help Price students adjust to the school, but the issues surrounding the students could have been avoided if neighborhood schools in Kenwood weren't closed down.
As a part of CPS' latest round of closures, it opted not to close any high schools because of safety concerns regarding children who would have to travel in unfriendly territory.
Currently, 129 CPS schools, mostly on the city's South and West sides, are still being eyed for potential closure this year, including Reavis Elementary School, 834 E. 50th St., and Woodson Elementary School, 4444 S. Evans Ave., which are both near Price's building. CPS is expected to release a final list of closures by the end of March.
The CPS statement also said that officials schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett "is listening to the community and expects to remove many schools from consideration due to safety concerns. The continued feedback from our parents and community members around this issue helps to ensure CPS makes the right decisions.
"CPS is working closely with faith communities, community leaders, Chicago Police Department, and school principals to identify any safety issues that could impact any decisions."
Despite the National Teachers Academy's reputation as a model school that is in "good standing," the activists said schools in Kenwood should be improved rather than shuttered. Then children wouldn't have to be shipped out of their neighborhoods.
The Rev. Krista Alston of Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church said she chose to home-school her 12-year-old, a former Price Elementary student, rather than bus her son to the National Teachers Academy, a school well outside of the neighborhood.
"It's a civil rights issue when students from Price are displaced and sent 22 blocks away to National Teachers Academy," Alston said.