School protesters pray, sing at Emanuel’s home

February 21, 2012

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Hundreds of teachers, community activists, and parents held a demonstration outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home late Monday to protest proposals to close or completely restaff 17 schools.

A board vote on the proposals is scheduled for Wednesday.

The crowd walked silently up North Hermitage, then prayed and sang outside the mayor’s home.

“Send a message to the mayor tonight, Lord God,” intoned one woman through a microphone. “Send a message to the CEO tonight, Lord God. Send a message to every member of the board tonight, Lord God.”

Organizers of the vigil led the crowd in song as they continued up the street.

Many wore stickers over their mouths that read “silenced” or “excluded.”

“[Emanuel] made all of these decisions without coming into our neighborhoods and asking the parents, and we’re the ones that’s going to be affected more than anybody,” said parent Lisa Russell, who has a child at Crane Technical High School, which is slated to be phased out.

Some in the crowd were from Occupy Chicago; many were teachers from schools not on the closings list.

“I think that we should keep public education public, and I am concerned about handing over power over to private organizations like AUSL,” said a first-grade teacher on the North Side. She did not want to give her name for fear she could be putting her job at risk. AUSL, or the Academy for Urban School Leadership, is a private nonprofit slated to take over management of six of the schools.

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said for the first time in many years, the district is putting the academic needs of students first.

“What has been tried in the past has not worked, and going back to the same failed policies is not in the best interest of our students,” said spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

If the Chicago Board of Education approves the proposals, CPS will have shut down or completely restaffed more than 100 schools in the last decade, most in African-American neighborhoods.