OLD TOWN — Manierre Elementary parents saved their school, DNAinfo.com Chicago has learned.
Sources close to Chicago Public Schools confirmed Tuesday that Manierre in Old Town has been removed from the list of 54 schools set to close as part of the largest school consolidation in U.S. history.
After reviewing the testimony of parents, educators and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who made Manierre’s case at three public hearings, CPS boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett decided to spare Manierre at 1420 N. Hudson Ave., a source said.
Byrd-Bennett is expected to tell the Board of Education Wednesday that she no longer recommends that Manierre — and a few other schools on the list — be closed.
In the case of Manierre, Byrd-Bennett determined that students at the school and the adjoining Ferguson Child Education Center benefit from too much private-sector support — funding from Target, Erickson Institute, DePaul University and the University of Michigan — to shut it down.
Also, the schools chief determined that planned housing developments in the area — and a recent spike in Ferguson's enrollment — indicated the school enrollment could grow in coming years, the source said.
Byrd-Bennett also was impressed by how involved Manierre parents are at the school and their passionate fight to keep the school open. That factored into her decision, as did concerns about student safety, the source said.
Manierre parent Sherise McDaniel, who organized fellow moms to fight for the school, heard the news from a DNAinfo.com Chicago reporter outside Walter Payton College Prep, where parents from both schools were called to meet with the head of CPS security and Jenner administrators about proposed safe passage plans in the event the two schools merged. Only Manierre parents showed up.
"Oh, my God!" McDaniel screamed. "This means everything. At moments I did feel like we had no hope. I thought we weren't gonna have a chance. But here we are."
CPS had proposed closing Manierre and sending students across Division Street — into rival gang turf controlled by the Gangster Disciples — to attend Jenner Academy.
At three public hearings, parents said they were scared to death that their kids would become victims of violence if they were sent to Jenner.
A Manierre sixth-grader said she got beat up by a group of girls from Jenner because she dared to walk through Seward Park to attend an after-school program after missing the bus.
A Jenner student with alleged GD gang ties posted a “hit list” marking nine Manierre students as targets. In a separate post he made this threat: “F--- ALL SED IAM KILLIN BABYS AND ALL.”
Outside Payton on Tuesday, McDaniel's daughter, Akia Fox, whose picture was on the hit list, jumped and hugged her little brother, a second-grader at Manierre.
"I don't have to worry about my little brother getting hurt," Akia said. "I know he'll be safe. ... Every Saturday ... my mom had to go to a meeting or go to a protest or something. She didn't have to do that, but she did. She is my role model, and I love her for that."
The last month has been an emotional roller coaster for Manierre parents.
On May 7, retired judge Paddy McNamara, serving as a hearing officer, recommended that CPS spare Manierre from closing. In her written decision, she said CPS didn’t sufficiently consider student safety and the millions in private, federal and state funding for educational programs that would be wasted if the school closed.
That gave McDaniel and fellow parents hope.
Still, Mayor Rahm Emanuel didn’t waver.
“I take what people say as we work through these issues seriously, regardless of who says it,” Emanuel said last week. "This is a very difficult issue, but it's really difficult leaving a kid in a school that’s failing.”
On Monday, as Manierre parents marched in one final protest around City Hall, CPS issued details of a safe passage plan in case the Board of Education voted to close Manierre.
Standing on the sidewalk under Emanuel's fifth-floor office, McDaniel broke down in tears.
On Tuesday, she cried tears of joy.
"This is bittersweet," McDaniel said. "There are still so many schools that won't have the joy that we have right now. ... They might not be able to celebrate how we are right now.”
Parents weren't the only ones relieved.
Manierre occupational therapist Marilena Marchetti couldn't stop hugging everyone.
"It's like you found out you had cancer and then it went away," she said. "It's been miserable working under those conditions."
On Friday, sources told DNAinfo.com Chicago that Byrd-Bennett also would remove other schools that independent hearing officers recommended be removed from the school closure list.
It was unclear late Tuesday which schools would get a last-minute reprieve at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.
Manierre parents who gathered on the school steps Tuesday afternoon said they plan to be at that meeting — to hear it for themselves.