BRIGHTON PARK — When Kelly High School junior Juan Escovedo was diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago, he turned to his music and drama classes for therapy, for a distraction from his diagnosis.
On Wednesday, Escovedo and hundreds of other students from Thomas Kelly High School in Brighton Park walked out of class, protesting against a proposed charter school that students said could siphon money from Kelly and other schools.
"The main reason why I do it ... they're gonna get rid of all our programs," a now-healthy Escovedo said. "I'm trying to keep our music program alive."
Kelly, at 4136 S. California Ave., sits less than a mile from a vacant lot where the Noble charter network wants to build a 1,100-student capacity high school.
Noble's proposal has the backing of Chicago Public Schools officials, and its fate will be decided by the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday.
Students walked out of class early Wednesday and huddled at Kelly Park across the street.
Tykira Taylor, a junior, stood at the top of the bleachers and told the gathered students what the stakes were if the charter was to be approved.
"If that happens, there's a chance Kelly would close down," she said. "The soccer team, our classes, we could lose money. We don't want Kelly to be ruined."
Noble is proposing to build a high school at 47th Street and California Avenue because of the overcrowding in local high schools. CPS agreed, saying Monday that seven high schools within two miles of the Noble location are overcrowded.
Noble has also said its North Side high schools service more than 2,000 students from the Southwest Side, demonstrating a desire for such a school in the area.
Neighbors, students and teachers have disagreed, saying the new school could be a death knell for local schools since school budgets are based on enrollment and students lost to a charter would take funding with them. They have held rallies and now a school walk out to demonstrate their opposition.
Students left the park and used a police escort to cross back over to California and began marching around their school.
"They're allocating resources to another place," said Fernando Valencia, a senior who helped organize the protest. "I mean, our cafeteria has a hole in it."
After the students marched for about a half hour, Principal James Coughlin addressed them with a bullhorn, asking them to go back to class. He said he would meet with students to make sure their voices were heard.
"If we can figure out a way to channel all this energy and put it in front of the people it needs to be in front of," he said.
Some students thought they had a solution. Kids began trying to convince others to get on the Archer bus, take it to the Chinatown Red Line stop and head to the Board of Education meeting themselves.
After walking for another half hour along Archer Avenue, students rushed for a stopped 62 Bus and began pouring into the bus. Security and school officials were asking students not to go, and the bus driver halted the bus and began throwing off kids who did not scan their fare card.
About 20 or so kids stayed on the bus as it drove off.
A fight broke out as students were on their way back to school. Two kids were grabbed by security and brought back to the school building.
Then, students heard that news cameras were coming around 11 p.m., and so with the help of police made their way back to Kelly Park where they would wait for the cameras.
Meanwhile, other camera crews were rolling the entire time. The school's TV class had made sure to check out camcorders, microphones and tripods and documented the walkout.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Miguel Andrad, senior who is enrolled in the media class. "Hopefully we can start a movement."
"Who knows if we'll still have this class," he said.
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