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Ryerson Walkout: Parents Sound Alarm to Protest School's Closing

By  Erica Demarest Alex Parker  and Quinn Ford | March 22, 2013 12:36pm | Updated on March 22, 2013 7:10pm

HUMBOLDT PARK — Furious at the decision to close Ryerson Elementary, and concerned over the possibility of students bringing gang affilations to the school, about 15 parents protested outside the Humboldt Park grade school Friday.

And while parents hoped students would join them — someone even pulled a fire alarm — students were not part of the protest.

A day after Chicago Public Schools announced Ryerson, 646 N. Lawndale Ave., was one of 54 schools to close, the protest underscored the feelings of many who are unconvinced closing schools will make things better for CPS students. Ryerson is slated to merge  with Ward Elementary, which would take over the Ryerson building.

A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools said extra security guards were sent to Ryerson on Friday after CPS heard there may be a protest involving students leaving the building. CPS spokesman David Miranda said the extra security was to ensure the safety of the students. 

More protests are expected across the city later Friday.

"Four generations of my family have been to this school. We are 42 years here," said parent Timika Collier. "We want to see our school left alone. We don't want no other children coming in here terrorizing our kids."

Parents attending the protest said they are worried students with gang affliliations will attend the new Ward Elementary.

According to the Chicago Crime Commission, both schools sit in territory controlled by the Conservative Vice Lords.

Parents also said combining the schools would hurt Ryerson academically. Both are ranked in good standing by CPS.

"Our school has always been on good standing," said Torrence Shorter, vice chair of the Local School Council.

Parents pulled a fire alarm at the school to get students outside. A handful of parents ran into the school, and immediately came out as the fire alarm went off.

But school officials kept the children inside as the alarm blared.

"They're saying it's a false alarm! They're letting our kids burn up?" chanted protesters. "Let our kids out! Let our kids out!"

One classroom of students did come outside. Some kids danced and yelled, and some kids who thought the fire was real cried. Firefighters, however, assured the children there was no fire.

Janet Norfleet, chairwoman of the Ryerson Local School Council, said the protesters were getting opposition from principal, who reportedly told students they would be suspended if they left the school.

She said she felt betrayed by the principal, Takeshi White-James, whom Norfleet backed upon her arrival last year.

"We fought for her," she said.

White-James could not be reached for comment.

Gerald Taylor, a seventh grader at Ryerson, said Friday he is not sure if his mom will keep him at Ward school next year or transfer him somewhere else.

"I never thought they would do this to us, to change Ryerson to Laura Ward, I thought that was impossible," he said.

Taylor said he has a cousin at Ward now but does not know anyone else from the school, which is just a few blocks away from Ryerson. He said he and his friends think the change will cause fights in school.

"A lot of people from Ryerson and Laura Ward, they like get into it and then end up fighting," Taylor said. "That's why most people are talking they might transfer because who would want to fight everyday? Everyday you come to school, you got to fight."

CPS spokesman David Miranda said CPS understands parents and students concern about safety.

"With the proper supports and services, students can be brought together in a safe fashion," Miranda said in a statement, adding those supports are outlined in CPS' "safety transition plan."

According to CPS plans, Ward Elementary staff should not see any layoffs in the move. However, some Ryerson staff could lose their jobs. Placement for staff at closed schools will to determined by "applicable collective bargaining agreements with our labor unions," Miranda said in the statement.

Tenured teachers with superior or excellent ratings at schools slated to close will be given priority at schools who need more teachers to accomodate the increase in students next year.