Students, parents and community members made a last ditch plea to keep open two charter schools, but the Chicago Board of Education still voted on Wednesday night to close them at the end of the school year.
The board voted to close the Frazier Preparatory Academy, a small charter school in North Lawndale, and Chicago Virtual Charter due to poor performance. Chicago Public Schools staff had recommended the closures.
These are the first schools closed by the Board of Education under Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Several board members told CPS officials they need to make sure the schools who take in students from closed schools get additional supports to ensure smooth transitions. CPS says students will receive individual transition plans.
The board members also told the students and parents who came to advocate for their schools that they heard them and felt for them.
Board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland thanked parents and students for coming to the board meeting. She said she empathized with them, but that the privatization model requires that charter schools can be closed when they are not performing.
“There is nothing wrong with your or your children that you find yourself in this situation today,” she said at the monthly board meeting, which was held at Curie Metro High School on the Southwest Side. “You are caught up in a system that is bigger than yourself.”
Todd-Breland also criticized the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, which came out in support of closing these schools, after advocating for the expansion of charter schools.
Hal Woods, executive director of the CPS Office of Innovation and Incubation, said school officials do not take a recommendation of closure lightly. He said the operators have the right to appeal to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Woods said both these schools have been poorly rated in recent years, have been losing students, and observations of staff revealed problems with the rigor of classwork.
Of Frazier, he said, “It is clear the school is not providing a high-quality education.”
Almost 20 people spoke in support of Frazier Prep, including several students. Kiya Cox said she worries that coming from a closed school will cast her in a negative light.
“High schools will look at me … a student from a closed up school, and what will they think?” she said. “You are taking my childhood and throwing it in the dumpster.”
Jaiden Gardley, a fifth grader at Frazier Prep, said the school changed his opinion of himself. He said it made him think of himself as college bound. “If you elect to close our school, you are doing more than close a school, you are tearing apart my family,” he said.
Others from the community noted that North Lawndale has had many schools closed over the years and implored the board members not to close another one.
Only about five people spoke on behalf of Chicago Virtual Charter School, which offers a mostly online education for students. One mother, who has two children at the school, said many of its students have had bad experiences at other schools.
“It is a safe school,” said Gloria McTeer. “I made the decision due to excessive bullying of my son.”
A social worker from Chicago Virtual Charter said that “most of the students have had terrible experiences at other schools.”
The Chicago Teachers Union came out against the closure of the two charter schools, saying that they are “racist and irresponsible, especially when schools targeted for closure were once promoted as the future of Chicago Public Schools.”
Also, parents, students and founders of several other charter schools were at the board meeting to advocate for their schools. Several charter schools have contracts up for renewal this year, but those contracts were not on the agenda on Wednesday.