Protesters disrupt Chicago Board of Education meeting

December 15, 2011

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(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Security guards escort a protester from the Chicago Board of Education meeting.

Closing troubled schools is controversial. Yesterday that controversy reached new levels in Chicago: protesters took over the Board of Education meeting.

Proposed school closings in Chicago were NOT up for a vote yesterday, and it wasn’t what CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was planning to talk about….

BRIZARD: Good morning, Mr. President, members of the Board of Education, members of the public…
SHOUT: MIC CHECK!!
RESPONSE: MIC CHECK!!

In the audience, parent Adourthus McDowell stood up. CPS security guards quickly surrounded him. But others in the packed room-- lot of others-- echoed his shouts.

SHOUT/RESPONSE: Children have died—literally and spiritually—because of your policies. You have produced chaos. Mayor Emanuel you should be ashamed.

McDowell says dozens of school closings have left neighborhoods in disarray.

Board members and district officials stared out at McDowell and the chanting audience. Board president David Vitale waited for them to finish.

VITALE: CEO Brizard, Sorry for the interruption. I hope they all feel better now, and they’ve gotten it out of their system, and we can get on with the business of the…
AUDIENCE: (uproar)
BRIZARD: So good morning. Our approved FY12 budget includes…

But things were not going back to normal.

Security guards escorted protesters out of the board chambers. but as quickly the leader could be removed, someone else took up the chant. Then this:

VITALE: I’d entertain a motion for us to go into closed session.

Five ayes,  no nays. Board members and district officials hustled out a back door and into closed session while the chants continued.

Parents, teachers and activists who’d shown up at 5AM to stand in line for a turn to address the board looked at each other. WHAT NOW? Some had slept overnight at CPS for a chance to address the board. (The school district bought them donuts in the morning.)

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, a former high school teacher with some obvious practice at classroom management… took the reins.

SHARKEY: OK, We’re just going to proceed with people’s testimony. If the board comes back obviously they’ll figure out how they want to make the meeting proceed at this point. Um, who’s my first speaker? (Right here!) Go ahead.

For nearly two completely surreal hours, Chicagoans mad at 10 years of school closures stepped up to the podium and spoke to empty chairs… CPS’s audio/video guy turned the cameras back on, and testimony was piped over the TVs again in the board chambers—like any other meeting.

It was zany, protesters pleading with invisible school officials for their voices to be heard.

Math teacher Jason Cooper looked diligently up from his paper at the absent board members as he read his testimony. He and every other teacher at Crane High School will be given a pink slip at the end of this year.

COOPER: Will you support us, not by closing us, but by investing in us and in our students—in their current schools? Thank you.

Eventually the board returned. Just a fraction of the public was left, including James Murphy, whose testimony sounded a lot like the rest of the meeting.

MURPHY: Next time, we’re not taking over a board meeting. We’re going to reopen our schools—because these are our children.

Murphy, a PhD student in Philosophy, is part of “Occupy Chicago.” That group is joining forces with many who feel there are two school systems in Chicago, one for the haves, one for the have-nots.

Murphy says the next step will be to actually take over schools. 

Board president Vitale said no one’s made any final decisions about this year’s proposed school closings.  And the Board wants to hear from the public.

VITALE: We regret what happened today, and the way that it happened. We regret that not everybody who may want to have been heard could be heard. I hope those people who did disrupt the meeting realize that they prevented people from being heard rather than helping them being heard.

Pro-charter school advocates in particular were frustrated.  They said for every activist protesting school closings, there are thousands of kids who need better schools.

Near the end of the meeting, board members voted unanimously to authorize 12 new charter schools—some of which likely will be housed in closed school buildings. The board votes on the school closings and turnarounds in February.

Linda Lutton. WBEZ.

LaCreshia Birts contributed reporting.

LISTEN TO UNFILTERED AUDIO of the Board of Education meeting by clicking under "EXTRAS" below.

 

 

 

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