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Protest of CPS Closings to Fill Daley Plaza, Could Shut Down Loop

By Ted Cox | March 27, 2013 6:16am | Updated on March 27, 2013 8:49am

CHICAGO — Thousands of people from groups across the political spectrum are expected to converge on Daley Plaza Wednesday afternoon to protest Chicago school closings.

(For LIVE UPDATES from the protest, click here)

The Chicago Teachers Union led the calls for a demonstration, along with the Grassroots Education Movement.

Some protesters feel so strongly about the closures they're willing to be arrested. The CTU hosted two "Citywide Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Trainings" on March 14 and 16 to prepare teachers, students and parents for Wednesday's protest.

"While the District contemplates how many neighborhood schools they will shutter this year, taxpayers who have had enough of these top-down, draconian measures are strategizing on how to elevate their voices in the school closing fight," the CTU said on ITS website.

The trainings focused on "new non-violent" protest techniques to get the community to pay attention to the "injustice of City Hall wanting to close 13 percent of neighborhood schools, most of which are in African American neighborhoods," the CTU said.

From neighborhood groups like Action Now, the Albany Park Neighborhood Council and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization to education-oriented agencies like Parents 4 Teachers and Raise Your Hand, many non-governmental organizations with interest in the issue were planning to attend at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Protests arose, sometimes chaotically, across the city last week after Chicago Public Schools announced its plan to close 54 schools and merge others. The Daley Plaza demonstration, set to lead to a march on City Hall and CPS headquarters, figured to galvanize those various groups and give them a single focus.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been largely absent from the debate since the closing list was released. CTU President Karen Lewis took the opportunity to label him a "coward" and the "murder mayor." Emanuel made a tepid response last weekend before trumpeting "learning gardens" to ease the transition for displaced students this week.

"First iPads and air conditioners, and now learning gardens?" CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey lashed back. "When will the mayor and his handpicked Board of Education realize that running an urban school system is about more than gimmicks and PR?

"The problem with his promises is that we don’t believe CPS has the capacity to plan and manage such a massive, disruptive change as 61 schools closing," he added. "The board has never handled anything like this in the past, nor have previous closings produced improved academic results."

As if to prepare for the protest, the Board of Education rescheduled its March meeting from Wednesday to next week. The board blamed spring break, but critics contended it was to keep students and parents from attending during the week off from school.

A CPS "civil disobedience" memo sent to principals last week detailed how they should deal with the protests, WBEZ reported. The memo, leaked by the Chicago Teachers Union and Catalyst Chicago, includes the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its exceptions.

"Protestors often explain away their acts of disruption based on '1st Amendment rights', but then go far beyond those rights in their acts," the memo reads before listing such exceptions as "incitement," "fighting words" and blocking traffic.

The memo also encourages principals to report any protesters or planned demonstrations and take note of any media that attend.

The newly formed group Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools protested at City Hall and CPS headquarters Monday and planned to return for the Daley Plaza demonstration.

The local group Radicals Against Discrimination planned to meet at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Randolph Street and Franklin Street before joining the Daley Plaza demonstration.

The group stirred the pot last week by posting maps on Twitter superimposing school closings upon Chicago Police Department violence hot spots and over the city's poverty map.