HUMBOLDT PARK — Just days before a vote that could result in the largest school consolidation in American history, opponents of the measures are taking to the streets in protests citywide.
The Three-Day March for Education Justice will take members of the Chicago Teachers Union and others opposed to the planned closures across nearly 38 miles on the city's South and West Sides.
"We can't sit still," said Michelle Gunderson, a teacher at Nettelhorst Elementary School in Lakeview and a vocal opponent of the closures. "It helps people visualize where these schools are. It helps give people a vision of what these schools mean to their communities."
The march will culminate with a rally and demonstration slated for late Monday afternoon at Daley Plaza.
The marches start one day after sources indicated that some of the dozens of schools on the chopping block could get a last minute reprieve.
The news is encouraging to opponents of closures, but some say it still isn't enough.
"We would be happy for any schools to be off the list," said Francine Greenberg-Reizen, a teacher at Arnold Mireles Academy in South Shore. "But no school should be on a list to begin with."
The Board of Education is due to vote on the closures Wednesday.
Saturday's marches were set to kick off at Jesse Owens Elementary Community Academy in West Pullman and Lafayette Elementary School in Humboldt Park.
At Lafayette, a crowd of hundreds listened to impassioned speeches from teachers, parents and community activists from Humboldt Park as well as the East Coast.
"Where was [CPS CEO] Barbara Byrd-Bennett? She wasn't in Chicago," said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the union saying the district's administration has little understanding of the challenges in the city's schools. "Where was Rahm Emanuel? He wasn't in Chicago."
Before marchers made the 1.7-mile journey to Ryerson Elementary School, Lafayette's string orchestra, the largest of any CPS elementary, performed several pieces on the sidewalk.
"I dare anyone who hears this orchestra to say that this school is underutilized," said Arturs Weible, leading his students in performing George Frederic Handel's Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus.
The walk to Ryerson took about an hour and was replete with chanting and honks from cars, CTA buses and motorcycles.
The hearing officers — a group of retired judges who heard final pleas from parents, teachers and students last month — found that CPS failed to meet legal requirements and didn’t have adequate safety plans for closing the schools.
After the hearing officers' reports were released, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he took the decision seriously but planned to push ahead with school closures to improve the education of kids in failing schools.
"This is a very difficult issue, but it's really difficult leaving a kid in a school that’s failing," the mayor said at the time.
Saturday evening, marchers rallied at Leif Ericson Elementary in Garfield Park.
Torrence Shorter, a parent and local school council member at Ryerson, said he hoped the turnout will show Emanuel and CPS officials how parents and teachers mean business when it comes to school closings.
"If you didn't know, now you know how serious we are about this fight," Shorter said.