Protesters block elevators at City Hall on Monday after presenting petitions calling for a moratorium on school closings. | Sun-Times~Jon-Seidel
Updated: June 22, 2013 6:21AM
Fifty-four Chicago public schools are on the chopping block, to be consolidated with 55 other schools this summer.
In total, the lives of 30,000 students will be changed forever if the board of education approves these closures on Wednesday.
That’s a record number for the nation, as well as for a school system that, on a good day, barely manages to keep the lights on, the buses running and enough teachers in the classroom.
If board members truly are listening, if they truly hear the voices that have pleaded for their schools over the last six months, they will spare at least 21 of the 54 schools that CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel insist are under-enrolled and must be closed.
Our list of 21 includes some of the schools that several retired judges hired by CPS as independent hearing officers strongly opposed closing or expressed serious concerns about. We identified still more after visiting schools, attending closing hearings, reading the judges’ reports and interviewing parents, advocates, educators and CPS officials.
When schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett began the process of choosing which schools to close six months ago, she said she would listen like never before: “The community simply does not trust what we say or do,” the newly installed CEO said at the Chicago Urban League. “We need to build trust.”
In many key ways, Byrd-Bennett has listened, whittling her closing list to 54 after gathering input at community meetings and accepting nearly all the recommendations from a closing commission she established. CPS also has planned like never before to try to rationally close schools and enhance the schools that will absorb them.
But crucial information has come to light since late March, when Byrd-Bennett released her list of 54 school closures plus major changes for 29 other schools. All told, as many as 47,500 students will be impacted if all school shakeups are approved.
It is now up the board to keep listening — and to spare at least 21 schools.
Why? Only a smaller closure list could be executed humanely and safely. No school system has ever attempted so many closures at once, let alone in such little time. Consider just one subset: Nearly 5,000 special education students will be affected by the consolidations, some with profound disabilities. Second, lopping off 21 schools prevents closures that will hurt, not help, students.
We begin with some of the school closures rejected by the judges: Buckingham, Calhoun, Mahalia Jackson, Manierre, Morgan and Overton. We excluded a few where CPS can likely manage the judges’ concerns. Next are schools where the judges had grave concerns, or in three cases (Stockton, Stewart, Courtenay), recommended against closing: Delano, Dumas, Duprey, Ericson, Near North, Owens, Songhai and Peabody.
Rounding out our list are four schools we studied ourselves: Garvey, Lafayette, Trumbull and Yale. Finally, we support letting Bowen High remain the lone school in its building, as one judge recommended.
In cases where students could be in danger walking to school, CPS should add busing. A minimum list: Marconi, Fermi, Gold-blatt, King, Bethune and Kohn. We also worry about potential over-crowding at several receiving schools, including L. Ward, Bret Harte and Otis.
The Sun-Times list covers community gems like Garvey in Washington Heights that must be preserved. It also highlights high-achieving schools like Chopin in Humboldt Park, which is at risk of over-crowding and academic loss if it absorbs Lafayette.
We’re also fighting for schools like Trumbull in Andersonville, where large numbers of special education students aren’t accounted for in CPS’ flawed building utilization formula. Finally, we oppose shifting students from one weak school to another, as with Manierre in Old Town, particularly when students face major safety risks while walking longer distances to school.
The Chicago Sun-Times has long supported closing severely under-used schools. It’s best for students and best for the cash-strapped school system.
But we can’t support closing the wrong schools or closing even the right ones in a way that hurts kids and teachers. Neither can thousands of parents, advocates and educators.
One question remains: Is Mayor Emanuel’s board of education listening?