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Rahm Emanuel on CPS School Closings: 'Status Quo is Unacceptable'

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about Chicago public schools and the future of community colleges. (April 4, 2013)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about Chicago public schools and the future of community colleges. (April 4, 2013)
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

DUNNING — Despite citywide protests and allegations of racism, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stuck to his guns Thursday as he talked about the proposed closure of 54 Chicago public schools.

“The status quo is unacceptable,” Emanuel said at a news conference at Wilbur Wright College. “The status quo is failing way too many kids. It can’t be met with silence. It has to be met with action.”

Chicago Public Schools announced March 21 plans to shutter 54 city schools. In all, 11 schools would be merged, 61 “underutilized” buildings would be closed, and as many as 30,000 students and 1,000 teachers would be affected.

“I understand this is very difficult, and I understand how emotional people can get,” Emanuel said. “But I also believe people can get very emotional about a drop-out rate of 56 percent.”

According to Emanuel, 56 percent of black male CPS students drop out before completing high school.

“We need to bring a change to ensure that every child — regardless of zip code, regardless of circumstance, regardless of background — has an opportunity,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel's comments mirror those made by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett at a Chicago Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

"I've never felt more certain about the need to take action," she said. "When the status quo is not working, change is inevitable."

Emanuel said he stood with Byrd-Bennett “100 percent, hand in glove.”

“What I won’t accept, is when people [who are protesting the closures] are asked, ‘What’s your alternative? What’s your idea?’ — and there’s silence,” Emanuel said. “The answer cannot be silence.”

“I’m not interested in insults,” the mayor continued. “I’m interested in ideas. Silence is not an idea.”

He said merging underutilized schools with their higher-performing counterparts will “maintain and improve on the quality of education because [the receiving schools] have had the results to prove it.”

In 2012, only 61 percent of all CPS students graduated high school, Emanuel said. That number was a record high for the city.

“I’m not satisfied" with 61 percent, Emanuel said. “It’s incumbent upon all of us, as adults, to give children a quality education.”