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Morgan, Mahalia Jackson Schools Should be Spared in CPS Closings: Reports

 Two South Side elementary schools could be spared from closure if the Chicago School Board follows recent reports by independent hearing officers who recommended that several of the targeted schools be kept open.
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WEST CHATHAM — The Chicago Board of Education could spare Garrett Morgan and Mahalia Jackson elementary schools, which are slated to close in June, if the board follows a hearing officer's recommendation to keep them open.

In his report on Morgan and Jackson, CPS hearing officer David Coar concluded that the two schools should be kept open even though both are underutilized.

CPS attorney James Bebley issued a written response to the reports, saying "I respectfully disagree with the hearing officer's determination."

In two separate reports, Coar pointed out that Morgan and Jackson have many special needs children.

"The safety of the most vulnerable children in the school system is a very serious thing, not to be addressed with generalities and vague promises," Coar wrote. "Children in special education programs have not been told where they will go if the proposal [to close the school] is approved."

Parents of all other students have been informed which nearby school their children would be assigned to attend based on their address.

Morgan students would be assigned to attend either William Ryder, Walter Gresham or Oliver Westcott Elementary should the school close.

Students attending Jackson, 917 W. 88th St., would be re-assigned to either Fort Dearborn or Paul Cuffe Elementary.

Anntionette Cotton, 27, walks from her home in the 7800 block of South Lowe Avenue to Morgan, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., five days a week. She has two daughters in pre-kindergarten and another in kindergarten.

"I already have to walk four blocks to bring them to school. Now [CPS officials] think I am about to walk even more to take them to a school with worse test scores than Morgan," Cotton said. "I am appalled that CPS would suggest Ryder as a receiving school for Morgan kids.

"If the school does close then I probably will transfer my kids to a charter school near my house. But I am hoping CPS listens to the recommendation and keeps the school open."

Morgan Assistant Principal Zipporah Gwen remained optimistic.

“We never should have been slated to close in the first place. We have made a lot of progress in improving our test scores and within time will be better,” Gwen said. “Until a final decision is made about our fate, we plan to continue putting the needs of the students first.”

One Jackson parent said he is excited about the possibility of the school being saved.

"When I first heard about the school closing, I thought it was a shame CPS would do this at a time when the school has shown progress in its test scores," said Odis Allen Sr., who has one son in sixth grade and another in seventh at Jackson.

"My boys love it here. This is a good school, but if it closes, I guess I have no choice but to send them to another school."

Allen's youngest son, Odis Allen Jr., had a message for CPS officials.

"Please keep my school open. I like it here. This is where all my friends go. I have a lot of nice memories and I don't want that taken away from me."

The school board is set to vote on May 22 on the plan to close 54 elementary schools proposed by Chicago Public Schools in March.

In a statement, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief executive officer for CPS, said the final decision on closure rests with the school board.

“We are grateful for the work and dedication hearing officers have brought to this process," she said. "Hearing officer reports provide information that the Board of Education can use as part of a thorough review before its scheduled vote on May 22."