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South Side Parents Stage Protest in Front of Wicker Park's Pritzker School

By Alisa Hauser | May 31, 2013 11:47am
 A busload of 24 parents from the south side of Chicago visited Pritzker School in Wicker Park Thursday to inquire about enrolling in the school.
Parents Protest Closings, Visit Pritzker School
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WICKER PARK — Contending there are "two Chicagos," a busload of parents from the city's South Side protested outside a neighborhood school in Wicker Park Thursday.

Holding hands, the group — whose children are enrolled in three schools slated to close —  stood outside A.N. Pritzker School singing: "We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. We who believe in education will not rest until it comes."

The 24 protestors rallied at the top-level school at 2009 W. Schiller St. to argue that while Chicago Public Schools officials say that children of closed schools may apply to any school, the best in the district have waiting lists.

The group's leader, Jitu Brown, an organizer with the Kenwood Oakwood Community Organization, said Pritzker principal Dr. Joenile Albert-Reese met with the parents in the school's main office. Albert-Reese offered to put everyone interested in enrolling on the school's waiting list.

But Brown said that all of the parents, whose children attend the soon-to-be shuttered Parkman, Overton and Williams elementary, declined to be put on the list.

"We told her ... that the waiting list should be waived for parents whose children are at closing schools," Brown said.

Brown said Albert-Reese told the group that "that type of decision would need to be made on the district and central level," not by a school principal.

"What we are seeking is a type of alliance that will make it impossible to sabotage our schools," Brown said.

Catalyst Chicago reported Thursday that CPS announced half of the students from closing schools have enrolled in new schools and some 86 percent are going to the designated receiving schools.

In the fall, when a DNAinfo.com Chicago reporter visited Prtizker to learn about the school's gender specific classrooms, Albert-Reese said that more than 200 students were on a waiting list to attend the school. A CPS spokesperson confirmed there is a waiting list, but did not specify how many students are on it.

Brown said every two weeks, the group plans to visit a different CPS neighborhood school and ask about how to enroll their children, among other items.

All of the parents who rallied in front of Pritzker are, as a form of protest, refusing to enroll their children in the "welcoming" schools — those designated to accept displaced students from the closed schools, Brown said.

The purpose of the protest was "to expose a two-tiered educational system in CPS which has two Chicagos, with a different set of expectations for white, middle-class students than African American and Latino students from working low-income families," Brown said.

Irene Robinson, 48, has six children and seven grandchildren, all of whom either attended or are currently enrolled in Bronzeville's Anthony Overton school, 4935 S. Indiana Ave., targeted for closure.

Though CPS is encouraging parents to register their children at Mollison Elementary School, Robinson said that she will refuse to fill out any applications for her grandchildren.

Robinson said that Mollison, which is eight blocks from Overton, would be "overcrowded with trouble on top of trouble, blood baths." 

She added: "We want to move to a first class school like Pritzker."

"Rahm [Emanuel] ... designed all of this for black children to fail. We're not going to let that happen," Robinson said.

Prizker, a "Level 1" school that serves as a neighborhood school, in addition to a fine and performing arts magnet cluster school and a regional gifted academy, has long been viewed in the community as a top-notch, diverse school.

Of the 665 students enrolled in Pritzker, 54 percent are low income, and the student body is evenly split between African-American, Hispanic and white students, according to CPS.

Robinson said Bronzeville has been hit hard. 

"They took away our YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and now they are taking our children's school away and we can't have it. Our kids are smart and intelligent like everyone else's children," Robinson said.