CHICAGO — Teachers are joining other unions and grassroots groups in planning a "long march" to protest Chicago Public Schools closings.
The march is titled "Our City. Our Schools. Our Voice." It will take place in two legs on the South and West sides starting May 18, and includes a major demonstration May 20. CTU, the union groups SEIU and Unite Here and the Grassroots Education Movement and Chicago PEACE are organizing the protest.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has appointed the Board of Education, which will vote on the matter, as well as CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who has overseen the process. All have become subjects for harsh CTU criticism.
"School closings hurt children academically, and the mayor’s plan will also put thousands of students’ safety at risk, and many public school employees may lose their jobs,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “We must do whatever is necessary to stop this assault on the working class and the poor. Instead of just getting angry we must organize. Tell Emanuel, the board, the school CEO and their corporate sponsors that this is our city, these are our schools and we will use our voice to fight for justice."
The two legs of the march will step off May 18 at 10 a.m. at the Jesse Owens Elementary School on the South Side in West Pullman at 12450 S. State St. and on the West Side at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School, 2714 W. Augusta Blvd., in Humboldt Park. In many cases they'll follow the course students will take from closed schools to so-called welcoming schools that will accept them in the fall. While CTU hasn't released details of how many hours or miles they will march each day, the two groups of marchers will meet downtown for the demonstration.
CTU is asking marchers to register beforehand.
Protesters clearly hope to exert some pressure on the Board of Education, which is expected to vote in public on each school closing individually, as requested at the last meeting by board member Carlos Azcoitia. Yet, after CPS general counsel James Bebley rejected the findings of hearing officers who argued against closings earlier this week, CTU wasn't expecting the final verdict to change.
"This board is a rubber stamp that acts at the behest of City Hall," said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. "There may be some symbolic 'no' votes, to give an appearance that they are thinking independently. But make no mistake about this, they take their cues from the fifth floor of City Hall. Their own independent hearing officers have said 14 schools need to come off the list. What has been the mayor’s response? He’s not budging. Which means his board won’t either."
"We can no longer accept a status quo that allows students to remain trapped in under-resourced, underutilized schools where they are not getting the quality education they deserve," Byrd-Bennett responded to the plans for a march. "By consolidating underutilized schools, we can redirect our limited resources to higher-performing welcoming schools, support the academic growth of these students and ensure all students have the high-quality education they deserve."
The "long march" refers to a campaign led by Mao Zedong in his eventually successful battle to lead the Chinese revolution.