Protests Escalate As Chicago School Closing Vote Nears | WBEZ
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Protests Escalate As Chicago School Closing Vote Nears

The Chicago Board of Education is set to vote Wednesday to close four South Side high schools and one elementary school, even as activists warned against going through with the plan.

“Wednesday they will meet with a resistance I don’t think they are ready for,” activist Jitu Brown said this week. “I am prepared to fight for black and brown children and I am not by myself.”

Brown and others are incensed by a Chicago Sun-Times report that two key supporters of the plan cited by the school district don’t live in the community and are Chicago Public Schools contractors. They liken this to a tactic used in 2013 during the debates over Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close an historic 50 schools.  

If approved, three schools in Englewood -- Team Englewood, Hope, and Harper -- would be phased out over three years, and a fourth, Robeson, would be closed this June. Also, a Near South Side elementary school, National Teachers Academy (NTA), would be closed and converted into a high school.

CPS officials say they are recommending these actions to move students into better schools. The four poorly rated, severely under-enrolled high schools in Englewood will be consolidated into one new state-of-the-art high school to open in 2019.

They also say NTA children will get access to both a high quality elementary school nearby and a new high school.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson promised this round of school closings would be different than the traumatic, highly controversial ones of the past because they would be driven by the community. Jackson earlier this month adjusted the Englewood plans to phase out three of the schools rather than close them all in June in response to community concerns.

And, even after the recent reports of outside involvement, CPS insists community support remains. It cites an official Englewood community council, set up by the school district, that formally recommended the plan.

But now there are questions about how many of those council members actually live in Englewood. Many work in schools or run groups or churches in the area, but don’t live there, including the member cited by the Sun-Times. Others are former residents.

CPS provided the name of one Englewood parent supporting the plan. Theodria Constanapolis said she had planned to send her daughter outside the neighborhood for high school, but now hopes she can attend the new Englewood High School.

“It will give our kids the opportunities they don’t have now,” she said.

A group called the West Englewood Coalition at a community hearing on closing four South Side high schools held on Jan. 10 at Kennedy-King, a city college campus in Englewood. The group of mostly men came to support the plan to close the schools and got into shouting matches with opponents of the school closings. This raised suspicions of residents who say they were unfamiliar with the group. (Sarah Karp/WBEZ)

Concerns about the nature of support were heightened when a group called the West Englewood Coalition showed up to recent community hearings on the closings to support the plan.

Tyson Everett, who is a member of the Englewood council, told WBEZ he organized this group. The Sun-Times reported it is recently incorporated and located in south suburban Homewood.

Everett runs a substance abuse center in Englewood. Tax documents show the vice president of that clinic is South Side pastor T.L. Barrett. Barrett was one of several pastors connected to an highly criticized effort in 2013 in which people were given sandwiches and $25 to support the school closings at public hearings. He did not return calls from WBEZ.

Members of the West Englewood Coalition denied being paid to attend the hearings, but said they were hoping to get jobs renovating one of the closing high schools.

Keith Harris, vice president of the activism and job placement organization, the Englewood Political Task Force, initially worked with CPS to ensure the transition to the new high school went smoothly but when he saw so many outsiders involved, he stepped away. He said these revelations undermine CPS’ already low credibility in the community.

“CPS needs to go back to the drawing board,” he said.  

The NTA parents still want CPS to reconsider the closing.  

They even commissioned a racial equity analysis of the plan. They say it revealed that NTA’s closure would harm its low-income, black students.  

But CPS commissioned its own $85,000 equity analysis, which was just released Monday. It offers no assessment of the plan’s impact on low-income black students. Instead, it suggests a need for a new high quality high school in the South Loop area and recommends ways to make a new high school work for all kinds of students.

The Board of Education meeting starts at 10:30 a.m. at CPS headquarters, 42 W. Madison St.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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