CHICAGO — After six months of public meetings, passionate pleas and protests from supporters of schools in Andersonville and Uptown, the Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close Lyman Trumbull, Joseph Stockton and Graeme Stewart elementary schools.
Shortly after the vote, Stewart school parent Ciera Caruthers was outside Stewart with her 4-year-old son Corinthians, who is in a pre-kindergarten program at the school. The mother called Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked school board "ridiculous."
"I feel like they shouldn't close down this school at all," said Caruthers, who lives less than a block north of Stewart and also has two younger brothers who attend the predominately black and low-income school.
She wondered what would happen to the school building and hoped it wouldn't become condominiums, which is an idea that's been floated recently by a group of preservationists.
Caruthers cringed at the idea of walking by Stewart "and seeing people living in here."
Also in Uptown, CPS will merge Stockton with Mary E. Courtenay Elementary School. The measure would close the Courtenay building in Ravenswood and send its students and staff to Stockton’s building — with Courtenay staff in charge and most Stockton's staff let go. Stockton has about 500 students, a majority of which are black or Hispanic and come from low-income households.
Local School Council parent representative LaVera Lee, 64, has put several children and grandchildren through Stockton and spoke with sadness — but also optimism — after the vote.
She said that despite "all the politics and everything, we just didn't want to forget about the kids."
"I figured this was going to happen. Nobody is happy about it. None of our kids are happy. None of our parents are happy," said Lee, a member of the school's transition team, which is planning meet and greet events between the two schools to make sure the merger goes smoothly for students and parents.
Lee said: "I'm always against schools closing but I think at this point the parents, and most LSC members are going to try to make the best of it."
Feelings about the merger are mixed at Courtenay, which was not deemed underutilized and was a surprise addition to a list of proposed school actions. Courtenay is a small school in good academic standing with about 300 children that accepts students from across the city via lottery.
In April, retired judge Charles R. Winkler oversaw public hearings for Stockton and Stewart where he heard from parents, teachers and community members. In May, CPS published reports from Winkler suggested that CPS put brakes on plans to shutter the schools because CPS is not expected to have a safety plan for the new schools ready until right before school starts in the fall.
"Since a definitive safety plan will not be ready until late August 2013, CPS should consider delaying the implementation of the proposal until the 2014-2015 school year," Winkler wrote. He also advised CPS to take another look at the Stockton and Courtenay merger and "address and consider the plea to keep the Courtenay model intact: a 100 percent enrollment without boundaries."
Teachers at Stewart and Stockton were not convinced that CPS would listen to Winkler. And sure enough, Wednesday's vote did not spare the two schools.
CPS has proposed measures to account for safety concerns via a "draft transition plan." The district said it would partner with a community organization that would help serve as "community watchers," along students' walking paths to and from schools. CPS will also enhance school camera systems and schools will "have access to a metal detector and hand wands," according to CPS.
In Andersonville, Trumbull school will close and divide its student body between McPherson, McCutcheon and Chappell elementary schools. That includes more than 140 special education students in the predominately Hispanic and low-income student body of 400.
Trumbull school parents, teachers and even Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) have argued that Trumbull had been incorrectly placed on the list without the formula accounting for its special education program, which requires smaller class sizes than the 30-student average used in CPS calculations.
The Andersonville Development Corporation sent DNAinfo.com Chicago a statement saying it was "very disappointed to learn of the school board's decision to formally recommend closure of Trumbull."
"It is discouraging to see the concerns of the teachers, parents, and students of Trumbull, along with the businesses and residents of the Andersonville community at large, go unheeded," the statement said.
CPS officials have said closings of "underutilized" schools is an attempt to "right-size" the school district and better allocate resources.
Stockton librarian Claudia Pesenti, a Chicago Teacher's Union delegate who has been fiery at public meetings about her opposition to the school closings — and the mayor — called Wednesday "a very grim day for the city of Chicago."
"My next step is to register people to come out and vote and ensure Rahm Emanuel is no longer our mayor," Pesenti said. "Because he's not a good neighbor."