This story was updated Thursday, 8.29.13
Hundreds of people filled the sidewalk in front of the Chicago Public Schools central office downtown Wednesday morning, demanding that current school board members be fired and replaced by an elected school board.
“David Vitale, we don’t recognize you as a board chairperson, Andrea Zopp, we don’t recognize you as a school board member. You’re fired,” Jitu Brown shouted to the crowd.
Brown’s Kenwood Oakland Community Organization was one of about a dozen community groups from around the city that organized yesterday’s protest and CPS boycott. Brown said the Chicago demonstration was loosely connected to similar activities in 25 others cities around the country.
Organizers asked parents to take their children out of school for the day Wednesday to protest school closings and budget cuts that they say unfairly impacted poor and minority neighborhoods.
In a written statement on the boycott, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that removing children from the classroom “is unacceptable.”
“Our students belong in the classroom with their teachers, getting the instruction they need,” according to the statement.
But Diamond McCullough, a senior at Dyett High School on the South Side, said skipping a day of class to attend the protest wouldn’t harm her education.
“This is a school lesson right now,” McCullough said. “We’re learning more right now than … in school. This actually is like a history class for us.”
WBEZ counted about 265 protesters outside CPS headquarters near the beginning of the rally yesterday, including 28 elementary-school-aged kids. Police put the number closer to 400, including a large group of reporters, photographers and camera operators. Organizers disputed both crowd numbers. They said the crowd grew throughout the morning, with 1,100 demonstrators at the protest’s peak.
Jeanette Taylor took both of her kids out of school to attend the rally. She is chair of the Mollison Elementary Local School Council, where she has a third-grader and s sixth-grader. She said she was there with her children “to send a message to CPS” that Chicago needs an elected school board.
That’s the only way to prevent more harmful school closings and cuts, Taylor said.
“It’s the same thing as your elected officials. If they don’t do right by you, you remove them,” she said.
The rally was timed to coincide with the Board of Education’s monthly meeting. After the meeting began inside, demonstrators marched four blocks north to Chicago City Hall and circled that building. Then, a group of about 55 went up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to ask to meet with the mayor.
After an aide told them that Emanuel would not come out to meet them, the crowd filled the lobby with chants of “come on out!” and “stop running.”
Along with an elected school board, the demonstrators called for a moratorium on school closings and for the district to undo budget cuts at neighborhood schools.
Throughout this year’s budget process, CPS has maintained that the district did everything it could to minimize school funding cuts.
Patri Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him on twitter @pksmid.