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Teachers Furious After Board Votes To Close, Overhaul Schools

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School Board Vote

A man boos the Chicago School Board, after the board voted to close or phase out seven schools and stage “turnarounds” at 10 more. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 02/23/12 – 3:55 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Teachers Union is slamming the School Board, after the board approved a plan to close seven public schools next year and stage “turnarounds” for 10 others.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the board voted unanimously on the closures and phase-outs Wednesday.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Brandis Friedman reports

The reaction was immediate. Parents and teachers at the board meeting expressed anger after the vote, crying, “Boo!” and chanting, “Shame on you!” at the board members.

“We are not surprised that an unelected, unaccountable school board would vote unanimously to continue to the same failed policies that have shortchanged Chicago Public Schools students for years,” said Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis. “We are, however, disappointed that these board members lack the moral courage to do the right thing.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanded the move to close or “turn around” 17 schools.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Lewis and Rev. Jesse Jackson have both said CPS is engaged in educational “apartheid” for starving failing schools, with largely black and Hispanic student populations, of resources and help. But Emanuel said he’s driven by what the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once called “the fierce urgency of now.”

“I understand the noise around change and I’m sensitive to it. But I’m also … I can’t stand by and watch the silence – which is deafening – of failure,” Emanuel said.

Lewis said she fears when students from the shuttered schools have to go to the other neighborhood schools, gang violence will go up.

“Their unanimous vote will force hundreds of kids to cross dangerous gang boundaries in order to get to school,” Lewis said.

She adds that violence has historically spiked at the receiving schools when schools are closed.

Dyett High School board member Jitu Brown agreed that Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard are continuing the same policies that have been in use since retired Mayor Richard M. Daley took over the school system in 1995.

“When Rahm Emanuel says, and when Brizard says they have to do something, what have they been doing for the past 17 years?” Brown said.

Lewis and Brown said they are suing to stop the closures and turnarounds.

“Chicago Public Schools has violated the civil rights of our young people by violating the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, and the Illinois School Code,” Brown said.

Lewis is also calling for a return to an elected school board, instead of one that is appointed.

School board members defended their action, saying the schools targeted showed too little progress.

“We’ve created a climate where mediocrity is OK for our kids,” said board member Mahalia Hines. “It’s not OK with me, and I don’t care whether I was appointed or elected. My constituents are the kids.”

Board member Jesse Ruiz said the School Board had no choice but to take action.

“There are better hopes for better prospects than what’s been done and proven over years and years of just not meeting the mark in terms of giving them the educational opportunities they need,” he said.

Another board member admitted the board could have worked more closely with the affected communities, and said CPS should try and work with community groups to incorporate some of their suggestions.

The following schools are set to close after the current school year ends:

• Simon Guggenheim Elementary School, 7141 S. Morgan St;
• Florence B. Price Elementary School, 4351 S. Drexel Blvd.;

The following schools are set to be phased out. All of their current students will be allowed to graduate, but they will not accept any new students:

• Richard Crane Technical Preparatory High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.;
• Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St.;
• Julia Lathrop Elementary School, 1440 S. Christiana Ave.;
• Walter Reed Elementary School, 6350 S. Stewart Ave.;
• Best Practice High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.

At the schools set for turnarounds, the entire staff at each of those schools will be fired and replaced, but the students will stay. All of them will become charter schools run by a private operator, in this case the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

The schools set for turnarounds are:

• Amos Alonzo Stagg Elementary, 7424 S. Morgan St.;
• Wendell Smith Elementary School, 744 E. 103rd St.;
• Pablo Casals Elementary School, 3501 W. Potomac Ave.;
• Brian Piccolo Elementary Specialty School, 1040 N. Keeler Ave.;
• Theodore Herzl Elementary School, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.;
• Carter G. Woodson South Elementary School, 4444 S. Evans Ave.;
• Melville W. Fuller Elementary School, 4214 S. St. Lawrence Ave.;
• Marquette Elementary School, 6550 S. Richmond St.;
• Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School, 4747 S. Union Ave.;
• Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School, 2100 E. 87th St.

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