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Parents vote to end Whittier sit-in

The sit-in at Whittier elementary school in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood is finally coming to an end, after the Chicago Board of Education green-lighted a plan to least an outbuilding to a nonprofit group. A group of parents and protesters has been camping out at the school’s field house for more than a month in an effort to prevent Chicago Public Schools from tearing it down.

During his presentation to board members on Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman said the district will instead lease the building to a nonprofit for $1. The parents voted to end the sit-in Thursday, said protest organizer Carolina Gaete.

While parents and other protesters were onboard with the leasing agreement, the group wasn’t too thrilled with Huberman’s plan to create a library within the school. Whittier parent Araceli Gonzalez says there’s no room inside the school and instead wants the field house to be renovated to include a library. Parents are expected to meet with district officials on Friday to hammer out the location of the library.

“We’re going to have open minds because we care about the kids,” Gonzalez says.

Earlier this month, Huberman met with 25th Ward Ald. Daniel Solis and other elected officials to go over options for the field house. At the time, Solis said those plans included creating a library at the school, in the field house, or at a nearby vacant building.

But district spokeswoman Monique Bond made it sound like those last two options are off the table. During Wednesday’s board meeting, Bond told reporters that the field house isn’t safe enough to be partially converted into a library. She also says acquiring the vacant building and expanding Whittier will be tough to sell because the school is under-enrolled.

“At this point, under the budgetary constraints that we have, we don’t have any justification that tells us that this school is overcrowded,” she said.

Bond says an expansion of the school could cost the cash-strapped district anywhere from $5 to $20 million.

Meanwhile, the board of education also signed off on an expansion of the North Side’s Audubon Elementary School. Under the plan, the elementary school will begin providing ninth grade classes next fall and will expand with 10th, 11th and 12th classes in subsequent years.

Other schools have made similar moves, but the Audubon plan sets a precedent for the district, as it seeks to share some facilities at a private Catholic school, in this case Gordon Tech, which will lease space to CPS for $3.9 million over 10 years.

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