GARFIELD PARK — Politicians led media on a 10-block walk through tough turf on the West Side to dramatize the daily trip students will have to make when one school closes in favor of another.
"That's quite a walk," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) after leading dozens of people through his district from Melody Elementary to Delano Elementary. "And especially, it's quite a walk for young children.
"There were drug dealers standing along the route we walked," he added. "And if they were there now, they'll be there when the children are walking to school."
The walk came at the end of a three-hour bus tour the Chicago Teachers Union organized to demonstrate the plight of students who attend schools that will be closing. Chicago Public Schools officials plan to close 54 schools and merge others to address what they insist is a $1 billion deficit and "underutilization" of schools, largely in downtrodden neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
"It's scary. It's just not right," said Ald. Nick Sposato (36th), who joined the walk in spite of being hobbled with multiple sclerosis. "I should have stayed on the bus, to tell you the truth. This is a little tough for me to walk this distance. I certainly wouldn't want my kids doing this."
Shakeena Sturgent, a Delano parent, also led the way, from Kostner Avenue and Van Buren Street, where the bus unloaded, past Melody, at 412 S. Keeler Ave., to Delano at 3937 W. Wilcox St.
"It's a very dangerous walk," she said. At one point, she stopped to comment on a gathering of people on a street corner.
"That's trash," she said. "There's no other word for it."
That didn't stop U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) from stopping at Melody's playground to lead students at recess in a chant: "Save our schools!"
Melody will close, but move into the Delano building, which will be renamed Melody. According to CTU, it will blend kids from competing gang territories surrounding the schools.
Earlier, the bus tour stopped at Mahalia Jackson Elementary, in Auburn Gresham, which is slated to be closed. The students will be moving to Fort Dearborn, even though Jymmeta Penson, a Mahalia Jackson parent, said her school already has all the labs, libraries and equipment Fort Dearborn will have to be equipped with as part of being a so-called welcoming school.
The tour moved on to Guggenheim Elementary, closed last year. As the bus approached the school, the number of boarded-up buildings increased dramatically. Even so, 12-year-old Jasmin Murphy, a former Guggenheim student, said, "I just really miss it." She said she has since resettled at a charter school, but misses the friends and convenience of her neighborhood school.
"We create charter schools and drain our neighborhood schools," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who also blamed the siphoning off of tax-increment-financing-district funds for what he called "a manufactured crisis," adding, "And we have a crisis of leadership at CPS and City Hall."
Shannon Bennett, of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said what was aggravating is that there is no leverage for parents, students, teachers, politicians and community leaders outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education.
"The key legislators are shut out," he said. "The parents are shut out. The communities are shut out. ... It's only a handful of people who control this process."
Davis and Rush nonetheless announced that they'll be holding a congressional forum on Chicago's school closings. Rush called for a moratorium on closings and said there'd be a political price to pay for Emanuel, who has called for the closings along with CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The final approval is up to the Board of Education, which was entirely appointed by Emanuel.
"Education has always been at the center of the opposition to any sitting mayor," Rush said, adding that for decades there has been "nothing but promises made and not kept. We're tired of broken promises."
He snorted at pledges that welcoming schools would be equipped with air conditioning and iPads for students. "Don't try to appease these these suffering people with air conditioning on the inside and on the outside chaos," he said. "You can't buy us off."