Chicago students protest closings plan

High school kids want mayor not to close grammar schools.

March 26, 2013

(WBEZ/Becky Vevea)
Students march from CPS headquarters to City Hall to present a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking him not to close any of the city’s public schools. The high schoolers, whose schools are safe from shut down, say they’re defending younger students’ rights.

About 30,000 students will be affected if Chicago Board of Education votes to go through with closing 53 elementary schools in May.

But a group of high school students, whose schools are safe from shut down, protested the plan Monday.

Marching from the lobby of Chicago Public Schools headquarters to City Hall, the students chanted against closings and called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to stop closing schools

The group, Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, said they started working together in the wake of the seven-day teachers strike last fall. A handful of organizers from the Chicago Teachers Union and VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education) were also part of the protest.

Brian Sturgis is a senior at Paul Robeson High School, but his former school – Banneker Elementary—is set to be shut down.

He said Banneker has a history in the Englewood community, where he’s grown up.

“They see [Banneker’s] logo and they know that you’re a Banneker staff member, you’re a Banneker student,” Sturgis said. “There’s some type of respect that comes with that. And knowing that that might potentially be gone, it hurts so much, to know that this is where I grew up, this is who taught me to be the man that I am today, and the school just vanishes like it was never even open.”

Sturgis said he worries closing schools will forces kids as young as six years old to walk even further to school, putting them at risk of violence.

Most of the students at Monday’s protest were not from the schools slated to be shut down. But Israel Munoz said that shouldn’t matter.

“Even if my school is not being closed, I think I have the responsibility to stick up for elementary students who may not understand the situation the way I do,” Munoz said. “I think I hold that responsibility.”

CPS is promising to invest more money, technology and extra staff into the schools that get more kids as a result of closures.

"By consolidating underutilized schools we will be able to redirect those resources and move children safely to a higher-performing welcoming school that has all the things parents, teachers and CPS agree students need to thrive and succeed, such as a library, air conditioning, upgraded computer and science technology, and counseling and social support," CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a written statement.

But some students at the protest Monday said those things don’t matter if kids can’t get to school safely

“I don’t want an iPad, I want to be safe,” said Isis Hernandez, an eighth grader at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary.

Stowe is not being shut down, but Hernandez said she worries her friends at Ryerson Elementary will see more violence next year when they merge with nearby Laura Ward Elementary.

“[CPS doesn’t] know if schools are rivals or not,” Hernandez said. “We, the people that live in our neighborhoods, we know what schools are rivals and what schools are not, they don’t know anything about that.”

District officials announced last week that they plan to ramp up security and the Safe Passage program to help kids get to school safely.

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.