Protesters clash over school closings

For the first time ever, large numbers of protesters are turning out to support school closings. Some say they're being paid.

January 21, 2012

Linda Lutton and LaCreshia Birts

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(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Three busloads of protesters headed to school closings hearings from St. Stephen's church in Englewood.

Hundreds of protesters braved Friday night’s snow to weigh in on school closings.

The district held nine simultaneous hearings across the city on its plan to shut schools down or have them share space.

Some 400 people came out for Crane High School's hearing. The district wants to phase out the storied West Side school for dismal performance.

A brawl nearly broke out and police were called when Crane students clashed with outside protesters who arrived in buses and carried printed signs in support of the school's closing.

This is the first round of school closings to be handled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked schools team. It’s also the first year protesters have turned out to support closings. In years past, closings have been bitterly opposed by community members.

Pastors are among those who have come out in favor of school closings this year. Rev. Marrion Johnson spoke in favor of shutting down Guggenheim Elementary in Englewood Friday night.

"It's not because the students can't learn. It’s because it’s a failing school, and failing schools are full of failing teachers," Johnson told CPS officials staffing the hearing.

Earlier in the evening, at a parish hall about 10 blocks away, three busloads of protesters gathered and were loaded into school buses to attend CPS school closings hearings, including Guggenheim's.

Some allege such protesters are being paid to show up and support the closings.