NEAR WEST SIDE — Many concerns and questions, but no answers. That’s how it went for parents and teachers from William H. King Elementary as they gathered for a meeting with Chicago Public Schools officials Saturday.
It was one of three community meetings required for each school affected under a proposal that would shutter 54 Chicago public schools, including King, 740 S. Campbell Ave., before the Board of Education votes on whether to endorse the plan. King would merge with Jensen Elementary Scholastic Academy, 10 blocks away at 300 W. Harrison St.
About 350 people attended 10 meetings across the city Saturday morning and afternoon, CPS said in a statement. Three additional meetings were scheduled for Saturday evening.
The roughly 40 people who attended the King/Jensen meeting, held at Whitney Young Magnet High School, 211 S. Laflin St., were met by CPS representatives who acted as stenographers, jotting down concerns and questions.
Early in the meeting, a King mother inquired about bussing options for her four children.
“We’re here to receive input and take it back,” but not to answer questions, a facilitator responded. “We can take the question back and document it.”
CPS staffers were mostly silent as they collected statements from parents during the two-hour meeting.
“CPS officials did say these community meetings would be a chance for conversation,” the mother of four said. “Perhaps you should talk to them about that. This doesn’t really feel like a conversation.”
Several parents and teachers echoed the sentiment.
“Are any members of the Board of Education here today?” asked Martin Ritter, an LSC member at Young. “Is any CPS leadership here today? Is any decision maker who has any input on the actual final outcome of this decision here today?”
Carol Johnson, a community activist, asked what would happen to the King building once the school closed.
“What are you trying to do?” she asked. “Is this a land grab? Are you really, really concerned about our children’s safety, or are you trying to gentrify the neighborhood?"
An empty building could become a safety hazard, said Aiida Diaz, a Spanish teacher at King.
“When the school closes, that area is going to be abandoned really,” she said. “Right now, there are no provisions for what they are going to do with that building.”
Mostly, parents said, the merger boiled down to community.
“There is a tremendous amount of parent involvement [at King],” Johnson said. “These parents love their school… How dare you take their community away from them? It’s about the community. They’re a family there.”
Almost everyone who spoke Saturday questioned why CPS would close King. Parents waved stacks of “school report cards” from the Illinois State Board of Education, claiming the stats dispute CPS's “underutilization” arguments.
According to CPS data, King is on probation due to a low academic standing; Jensen is a top-performing school.
“First it was performance, then budget, then underutilization,” Ritter said. “Now, they’re using phrases like ‘holding our kids hostage in failing schools.’ When did the parents and teachers become terrorists? Why does CPS treat parents and teachers as if they’re some sort of evil Al-Qaeda people who hold children hostage?”
“That’s ridiculous,” he continued. “Are your PR people even listening to the crap they’re putting in the newspapers? I mean, seriously.”
According to flyers passed out by CPS staff, King is "less than half full" with steadily declining enrollment rates. Jensen will offer air conditioning, an upgraded computer lab and iPads for students in grades 3-8.
Buses will transport all current King students to Jensen until they graduate, the flyer said. Parents wondered whether pre-school aged children would also receive bussing once they enrolled in Jensen.
“Whether you promise a bus or a shuttle, that doesn’t protect kids from everything,” snapped Ritter. “So when something negative happens to these children from King, it is on CPS’s hands. It is on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hands.”