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Trumbull Supporters Call Meetings 'Theater,' Say CPS Move Already in Works

By  Adeshina Emmanuel and Patty Wetli | April 10, 2013 10:53am | Updated on April 10, 2013 2:56pm

LINCOLN SQUARE — Nearly 100 supporters of Lyman Trumbull Elementary School in Andersonville showed up at a meeting Tuesday night, hoping they could convince Chicago Public School officials that special education students need more space — and that the community needs its school.

Though parents, neighbors and Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) came armed with questions, many expressed frustration, claiming the district has already shown up at the school to count desks, chairs and cubbies in preparation for its closure.

Trumbull parent Sarah Lopez called the closure meeting "theater" and said it was clear that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS already had their minds made up about closing Trumbull.

"[Counting desks] doesn't make any sense to me — except that it just reiterates what the mayor says, that this is all a done deal," Lopez said. "This is all theater that's being done here tonight."

School supporters said CPS' utilization formula ignores space needs and state laws around special education class sizes, and that Trumbull should not be on the list of schools to close. Thirty seven percent of Trumbull's 400 children are special education students

Students would be split between McPherson and Chappell elementary schools in Ravenswood, and McCutcheon Elementary School in Uptown if the closure happens, according to CPS' plan.

Maria Galivanes is the parent of a seventh-grade autistic student at Trumbull, who asked what class sizes at "welcoming schools" would look like.

"If we put regular kids in a classroom of 30, I don't know how well they are developing," she said. "For autistic kids, to be in a classroom of 30, they just will become dysfunctional. It's just not possible."

Amanda Dunakin, a member of the community at McPherson school, said that "throughout this process, there's been a lack of transparency."

"These meetings you are having now are disingenuous," she said to officials, using a word repeated throughout the night.

"Our children need answers," Trumbull librarian Ruth Resnick said, calling out Ravenswood-Ridge district chief Craig Benes.

Benes was also challenged by Ali Burke, a Trumbull Local School Council representative who has a child at the school.

"I keep hearing all of us saying that we have so many questions but we just can't get answers to them," she said. "Chief Benes would be the person to give answers to all of these questions — would you be willing to come up and answer some of our questions?"

Benes replied that he "can't do it at this forum."

"But in the future I'd be happy to," he added.

Benes declined to comment for this story.

Ald. O'Connor echoed the community's cries to keep Trumbull open. He said the $16.3 million CPS said is needed to update and maintain the school is "significantly higher than you would actually spend if in fact you were going to keep that school open."

"Clearly if you wanted to make it top-of-the-line, $16 million would be a nice investment. But if you just wish to maintain the building to keep it open, you're more in the area of [$4 million to $5 million]," he said.

O'Connor also emphasized, like nearly every other speaker, that Trumbull is making use of its space considering the nearly 150 special education students there, and that CPS' utilization formula is wrong about the school.

"I think that Trumbull school is not something that fits the model you have chosen to articulate to the public," O'Connor said.

Burke said Trumbull has a "compelling and unique argument," when it comes to the formula.

"We have talked about that at [Board of Education] meetings, we've had representatives at every single community meeting. I don't know what else to do," Burke said, adding that "we will continue to fight for this school."

Musician, activist and lawyer Matt Farmer pointed out that the state has proposed abolishing maximum class sizes for special education students. He urged parents to fight the proposal before the public comment period for the measure ends on May 22 in lieu of a vote that month about the new rule.

Farmer, who has also recorded a CPS school closing protest song, said "every parent in this room who is depending on this argument to keep your schools open," should be aware that unless something intervenes in the state's plan, "You will have no such rules very shortly."

On Saturday, Trumbull supporters plan to attend the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force meeting in Roseland to continue the fight for Trumbull.