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Gresham Elementary Parents End Protest Inside School

By Wendell Hutson | May 16, 2014 3:26pm | Updated on May 17, 2014 9:36am
 Walter Gresham Elementary School parents began a school sit-in on May 16, 2014 to protest changes planned for the school.
School Sit-In
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AUBURN GRESHAM — A dozen parents who began camping out at Walter Gresham Elementary School Friday evening to protest district-mandated changes planned for the school this fall have reportedly left.

Ollie Clements, an Auburn Gresham resident, who has two grandchildren who attend Gresham, had said the group planned to remain inside the school until it heard from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, or David Vitale, president of the Chicago School Board.

At its April 23 meeting, the Chicago School Board voted to designate Gresham, 8524 S. Green St., a "turnaround" school. When a turnaround occurs, the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership assumes management of the school, and the entire staff, including the principal, must re-apply for their jobs.

In April, Gresham parents, students and community members held a rally outside Vitale's Hyde Park home demanding that he come outside to speak to them, which he did not.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said that the parents left about 12:30 a.m. Saturday. Police were at the school as well as district officials.

"Everybody left peacefully," Hood said Saturday morning.

Tweets from some of the participants, retweeted by the Chicago Teachers Union, indicated that protestors decided to leave after officials from CPS agreed to meet parents at an LSC meeting next week.

Hood could not immediately confirm that agreement.

However, Hood said, "It's also important to keep in mind that this same group of parents have met with Board President David Vitale."

"There have been a number of meetings...I don't want people to mischaracterize that the district hasn't been listening to them," Hood said.

Tiffany Walker, a Gresham parent, said during the protest that the group was after some answers.

"There are people like me willing to sit in this school until we get answers as to why [CPS] decided to make this school a turnaround," added Walker. "I have three kids here and I am a graduate of this school and I won't let them take this school away from our kids."

Parents, who are also members of the newly formed Gresham Parents, Students and Community United for Change group, organized the sit-in, which Principal Diedrus Brown said she supported 100 percent.

"I couldn't stop this sit-in even if I wanted to. This school does not belong to me. It belongs to the taxpayers and these parents are taxpayers," Brown said. 

In a statement provided by CPS, Byrd-Bennett said making Gresham a turnaround would allow students to have a high-quality education guided by strong school leadership.

"We do not take a decision to bring systemic change to a school lightly, but when change is in the best interest of our students, we will not waver," Byrd-Bennett said.

To further their efforts to stop Gresham from becoming a turnaround, 345 students wrote letters to President Barack Obama asking him to help save their school.

"Those letters were mailed today and we hope that it reaches the president's desk in time to help us," said Anthony Jackson, a Gresham Elementary parent and a member of the parents' group.

Gwen Herbert, who has three grandchildren at Gresham, accused CPS of putting more resources into schools where students are white.

"All of the schools targeted [for turnarounds] are black schools and Latino schools," said Herbert. "Are they trying to genocide the black schools and the Latinos? Why are the whites so important? Why do their kids get the best while our kids barely get anything? I pay taxes just like folks up north and anywhere else."

AUSL currently manages 29 CPS schools, according to its website.

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