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CPS School Closings Protesters: 'We Aren't Going Down Like This'

By  Paul Biasco and Emily Morris | March 21, 2013 12:20pm | Updated on March 21, 2013 3:01pm

CHICAGO — As the names of Chicago Public Schools recommended for closure began to leak to local school officials, dissenters protested that school officials are "out of touch with the people of Chicago."

Grass-roots organization Action Now held a protest dubbed the "School Board Bullies Bus Tour," which aimed to shame Chicago Board of Education members that the group blamed for the closings.

Many of the protesters were parents and grandparents of kids who attend public schools in neighborhoods such as Englewood and Lawndale. South and West Side neighborhoods are expected to be some of the hardest hit by school closures.

CPS was expected to release Thursday a list of about 50 schools that are on the chopping block.

"Hearing that they want to close that many schools is appalling," Young said in a statement before the protest.

"They will be putting our kids in danger, hurting their education and leaving huge buildings abandoned where we know vandalism and illegal activity will take place," Young said.

"The Board of Ed is so out of touch with the people of Chicago and we are going to stand up and fight back against this decision by the Mayor and CPS," she said.

About two busloads of Action Now members began their tour picketing Thursday morning outside the Morgan Park home of Andrea Zopp, president of the Chicago Urban League and a school board member.

Protesters chanted "No more school closings," and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Andrea Zopp has got to go."

Action Now member Adeline Bracey, a grandmother of four CPS students and a former school system employee who picketed outside Zopp's house said black and Hispanic students are unfairly targeted by the closings.

That sentiment had also been expressed by parents in several neighborhoods leading up to the decisions.

"Why are most school closings in black and brown communities?" protesters' signs read.

Schools should be better evaluated before they're closed, Bracey said, arguing that schools were evaluated with insufficient input from teachers, students and parents.

"They should come out there and visit the schools," Bracey said of officials charged with making the school-closing decisions.

Protesters also called Mayor Rahm Emanuel "Wrong Emanuel."

Next up was Board of Education President David Vitale's home in Kenwood. Protesters chanted that Vitale, too, "has got to go."

"I'm here because [Vitale] sits on the CPS school board and wants to close our schools," said Darlene O'Banner, 55, a grandmother of one student and parent of two at Englewood's Goodlow Elementary Magnet School, which officials said Thursday would be closed.

"We're letting [the board] know we're taking our community back," O'Banner said.

She criticized the school closure process because, she said, in the end, schools were pitted against each other.

"They're dividing us. They should've sat down and asked us as parents, 'How can we make your child's school better?'" O'Banner said.

CPS said it would close "underutilized" schools as a cost-cutting measure. Schools Chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has until March 31 to forward her final list of school closures to the board. A vote on the closings could come as soon as the April 3 board meeting.

"I refuse to stand by when CPS plays games with my son's education" said protester Chevelle Alberts, a parent of a 9-year-old at Miles Davis Magnet School. The school was once on a larger list or potential closures but has since been spared by CPS, officials said.

"The current school board is not interested in what's best for my son," Alberts said.

About 50 parents, mainly from the South and West sides, marched down rows of multimillion-dollar Lincoln Park houses before setting up in front of former board member Penny Prtizker's home early Thursday afternoon. She was the last stop on the tour.

Although Pritzker stepped down from her seat on the board last week, the parents and community members at the protest argued that she played an instrumental role in the school closing process.

"Here we are at lady Penny's house and mansion because we are sick and tired of the mayor appointing billionaires to the board of education when they don't know nothing about our school, our culture or our children," said Young, who is also the vice president of May Elementary's local school council.

"I don't care if she is retired, she did enough damage while on the school board that she should never again hold another government position."

May , which is located in Austin, has a 97.5 percent low-income student population.

Young said she got news that her school was being closed while she was on the bus tour. She began crying while speaking in front of Pritzker's home.

"These ain't tears of joy," she said. "We aren't going down like this. We are going to fight. We don't have anything else to lose."

Read more about schools slated for closure here.