OLD TOWN — Manierre Elementary students and parents Tuesday held on to a sliver of hope that their school might be saved.
A Chicago Public Schools hearing officer ruled that Manierre shouldn't be closed and students shouldn't be sent across gang lines to Jenner School in the fall.
In the written decision, retired judge Paddy McNamara said CPS didn’t sufficiently consider the safety of students and the millions of dollars in private, federal and state funding for educational programs that would be wasted if the school closed.
Around 10 a.m., Manierre Principal Derrick Orr gave the report to a sixth-grade teacher, who read it aloud to students. Kids cheered after hearing the news, one student said.
“It’s hope for the families,” Orr said after school Tuesday. “We definitely want to be there for them.”
Sherise McDaniel, who organized fellow parents protesting the proposed school closing, said the independent recommendation validated their cause.
“I was excited. I was really happy. All the hard work and everything we tried to prove, someone heard us. Somebody believed us,” she said. “Now it's up to the mayor and [public schools CEO] Barbara Byrd-Bennett to do the same."
Still, that’s a long shot.
“The board still has the final say," said Joey McDermott, a Chicago Teachers Union field representative. "Now, if they go against the [recommendation] they look even more out of touch with the communities.
“For parents it is a little false hope. … The mayor prides himself on making tough choices and doing what he thinks is necessary for the city," McDermott said. "It seems he doesn’t care what an arbitrator says. In that sense, it’s false hope, because he’s going to do what he wants to do.”
On Tuesday, CPS General Counsel James Bebly said he "respectfully disagreed” with the recommendations, which included suggestions to save several other schools.
McNamara’s decision is a “nonbinding” ruling that Board of Education members can overrule.
McNamara’s recommendation not to close Manierre was harsh.
The retired judge called CPS’s failure to consider the five multimillion dollar educational programs at Manierre funded by outside sources, including DePaul University, a “baffling omission” in the school-closing plan.
McNamara also hammered CPS for seemingly taking a boilerplate approach to addressing Manierre parents’ concerns for the safety of their kids if they are forced to attend Jenner Academy, which is south of Division Street, a long-standing gang boundary.
“The [CPS] CEO sent out an identical generic transition plan to all parents in all 50-plus schools," McNamara wrote. "Regardless of the obvious differences in the individual schools, each and every parent in every affected school was promised the same thing. Only a computerized change of the school names differentiates the letters."
McNamara cited testimony from parents and teachers about fights at basketball games between the two schools’ teams and a child from Manierre who was beaten badly by Jenner students for being on the wrong side of Division Street.
"It cannot be emphasized enough how concerned the Manierre parents are about their children's and their own safety if Jenner and Manierre are merged,” she wrote.
On Tuesday, McNamara told DNAinfo.com that her recommendation was the obvious decision to make.
“It was whether or not they followed their own scope and guidelines, and you can see they didn’t. Things weren’t taken into account,” she said. “It was there to see if you wanted to see.”
In all, the hearing officer ruled that CPS did not meet the required standards to close 11 of the 54 schools on the chopping block as part of the biggest school consolidation in U.S. history. Two other hearing officers suggested delaying the closing of two other schools for a year.
The reports suggest keeping open Manierre, Buckingham, Calhoun North, Delano, Mahalia Jackson, King, Mayo, Morgan, Overton, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle School. They suggest a one-year delay on closing Stewart and Stockton.
"It's really good to hear that somebody else feels the same way you have always felt," Sherise McDaniel said.
But now isn't the time to relax, McDermott said.
"We want everyone to continue to fight," he said. "Parents, community, teachers and students all have to send the board a message … that 54 is way too many schools to close."
CTU has planned three days of 6-mile marches to schools slated to close starting May 18 and ending May 20 with a rally at Daley Plaza. The Board of Education is expected to make a final decision on which schools will be closed on May 22.
Outside Manierre Tuesday, parent volunteer Karlyn Harris said she's not letting herself be too optimistic about the school's future.
"I think we have a pretty good chance. We've been heard," she said. "We don't want to get too excited before we hear it from the horse's mouth."