CHICAGO — Calling school closings "racist" and saying they could lead to "children dying," dozens of students held a march Downtown Monday to protest last week's announcement that 54 schools would close.
Declaring themselves the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, they marched from Chicago Public Schools headquarters to City Hall to deliver a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanding a moratorium on school closings and a publicly elected Board of Education.
"We represent the thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools that will be directly affected by school closings," the letter stated.
Closings would lead to "more violence and more children dying," as students walk to school across gang boundaries, the letter said. It said low-income African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods were unfairly targeted by the "racist decision" to close schools.
Although most of the two dozen students were high-schoolers, and no high schools are slated to be closed, they said they were speaking for younger students without an established voice.
"We are united and we are fighting for public schools," said Israel Munoz, a senior at Kelly High School.
"It is our responsibility to stick up for them," added Malachi Hoye, a senior at North Grand High School.
"As a student from Englewood, I can speak firsthand to the danger that lies ahead if these schools are closed," said Brian Stirgus, a senior at Robeson High School. He said his elementary alma mater, Banneker, was being closed to merge with Mays Elementary Academy. The two schools, he said, are on opposite sides of Halsted Street, a gang boundary in that area. "Why potentially put kids in more danger?"
Isis Hernandez, an eighth-grader at Stowe Elementary, said her school had avoided the closure list, but "it's not just about my school. It's about saving all our schools."
She said the closings would have a dramatic impact on neighborhoods. "This means more abandoned houses and more families moving away," Hernandez said, adding, "We have the same right to a decent education as a rich kid."
The letter was accepted by a representative of the mayor, but otherwise the Emanuel administration did not respond.
Munoz emphasized it was the group's first action and that it is intended to grow and to give students a united voice.
"I think a student voice is something that really needs to be addressed right now," he added. "It's something that CPS and the Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have not really attended to."
"This is out first action, but it won't be our last," the letter concluded. The group announced their plans to take part in Wednesday's protest organized by the Chicago Teachers Union at 4 p.m. in Daley Plaza.