Week of protest planned to oppose school closings, shake-ups

Organizers plan vigil outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home today.

February 20, 2012

Community activists, parents and teachers plan to pray and sing outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home this evening, ahead of a board of education vote later this week that would close or shake up more than a dozen Chicago public schools.

Over the weekend, several parents and dozens of Occupy Chicago activists staged a sit-in at Piccolo Elementary in West Humboldt Park. Some spent the night inside on the first floor and many more pitched tents outside.

They oppose district plans to totally re-staff Piccolo and turn it over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a politically connected nonprofit that specializes in turning around failing schools. The attendance area for the school would remain the same, all current students would be allowed to attend the school, and new teachers would be union teachers and employees of Chicago Public Schools.

But opponents see the takeovers as privatization. Local school councils become advisory only. Parents and activists are concerned that weak students or those with behavior problems will be pushed out of the school.

“Why do we have to bring in a private organization to come in to teach our kids?” parent Latoya Walls asked Friday as the “occupation” of Piccolo began. Walls attended Piccolo and now has a daughter in first grade there.

“Is this a political thing? Is this a money thing? Do our kids have a dollar sign in front of their face?” Walls asked. The district currently contracts with AUSL to run 19 Chicago schools. The president of the board of education is the former chairman of AUSL; the district’s chief administrative officer also held a top position with AUSL before joining the district under Emanuel.

Those who oppose the closings say the district’s decisions are top-down. They complain schools are starved of resources and then declared failing.

Organizers warned there will be more actions to oppose the school closings and turnarounds. Today, they are hoping for thousands to turn out to a rally that will end at the mayor’s home, where they hope to deliver what one called a “peaceful statement of dissent.”

The district says schools slated to close or be re-staffed have failed students year after year.

AUSL elementary schools posted bigger test score gains last year than CPS-run schools.

The board of education is scheduled to vote Wednesday on 10 turnarounds and 7 school closings. A hearing is scheduled that same day in a lawsuit filed to stop the closings.