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Board votes unanimously to close, restaff schools

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Rev. Jesse Jackson (left) attended Wednesday's board meeting with teachers union head Karen Lewis (right). (WBEZ/Linda Lutton)

Listen to Linda Lutton discussing Wednesday’s meeting on Eight Forty-Eight

Chicago’s school board voted unanimously late Wednesday to close seven schools and completely re-staff 10 others. The vote comes after months of protests from parents, teachers and activists and a spate of final pleas to board members to save the schools.

People began lining up at CPS headquarters 4 a.m. for a chance to address board members, and the school district stopped allowing the public in at one point, saying board chambers and an overflow room were at capacity.

Nearly eight hours after the meeting began, board members cast their votes and were immediately boo’d, protesters shouting, “Shame on you!” Votes were not taken on each school individually; instead, board members voted on closing 7 schools, then on dismissing all staff at 10 schools; then on handing 6 of the 10 schools to an outside nonprofit to run.

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called the vote a “travesty,” with no board member dissenting on even one school.

Earlier in the day, Lewis kicked off three hours of public testimony before the board, warning that Chicago is at the “epicenter of the education justice fight in America.” She said the nation is watching.

“Children who need the most resources get the least. Parents who cry out the loudest have their voices drowned. Schools that deserve the most support purposely get little,” she told them.

Lewis said closing schools and turning them over to nonprofits to manage is part of a broader political agenda to destroy public schools. Lewis was joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who blasted inequities in the school system and a lack of resources.

“This is Little Rock, 1957,” Jackson told the board. “This is apartheid.”

A string of speakers criticized CPS for disregarding community concerns and failing to . Several predicted spikes in violence as students make their way to new schools across gang lines. “The Board of Education needs to work and help pay for some of these funerals that the families will have to go through, said Rev. Paul Jakes.

School district CEO Jean-Claude Brizard characterized the school closings process is the most respectful he’s ever seen.

Brizard also said the district has listened to community concerns. He said he’s charged with carrying the voices of nearly a half million students, and sometimes difficult decisions must be made on their behalf. He said students are suffering, with many in the “academic emergency room.”

Chicago Public Schools says 7,500 students will get a better education next year thanks to the board’s vote.

Two board members spoke after the meeting about their decisions. Board member Mahalia Hines said she considered information from the district, then went to the schools and community herself before voting. “While the decision I made was a tough one—you probably can hear it in my voice—it was an informed one,” she said.

Vice president Jesse Ruiz said he saw the vote as “an opportunity today to do something for those children.”

“There’s been a record of these schools not performing and not serving our students as well as they should for years,” said Ruiz. “And that’s unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate there are more schools like them. The worst thing I felt bad about today is that we couldn’t do this for more kids.”

Local school council members at the affected schools have filed a lawsuit to keep the closings from going through. A bill that would place a moratorium on school closings is currently in the Illinios General Assembly. Asked if there might be more sit-ins or “occupied” schools in the future, community organizer Jitu Brown said, “Stay tuned.”

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