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Teachers Head To Springfield To Urge Halt To School Closings

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A group of about 50 teachers, parents and students from the Chicago Public Schools boarded a bus to Springfield Tuesday morning, to make their voices heard about school closings.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports the group plans to urge lawmakers to stop CPS officials from closing dozens of schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union helped organize the trip to the Illinois State Capitol to attend an Illinois Senate committee hearing on proposed legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on school closings starting next school year.

State Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), who heads the Senate Education Committee, sponsored the measure, which was scheduled to be discussed in committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The proposal comes as CPS officials plan to announce the schools it will close at the end of the year. The district must issue its list of school closings by March 31.

From late January through early March, CPS hosted a series of community meetings to discuss a preliminary list of schools facing possible closure — initially a total of 330, later whittled down to 129 — as the district seeks ways to close a $1 billion budget shortfall. Those schools were targeted due to low enrollment. The final list is due by March 31.

After those meetings concluded, a school closings commission formed by CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued a final report stating CPS has the capacity to close or consolidate approximately 80 schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union has criticized the list of possible school closings, stating nearly half of the targeted schools are in African-American communities.

Some have raised concerns about whether the district can ensure safety for students who are displaced by school closings, and moved to schools in different communities.

Former CPS student Jasmine Lewis said, “it’s important, because the way that life is now in the different neighborhoods – especially in the inner city communities – kids need schools. And it’s so many schools that’s closing, it’s so many different things that we can do with those schools. It’s not just reopening for some students that can’t afford to go to private schools, charter schools and things like that.”

CPS has unveiled a security plan, promising students won’t have to walk more than four-fifths of a mile to their new school, or else buses will be provided.

CTU organizing coordinator Norine Gutekanst said the union is worried about the effect school closings would have on children who are moved to different schools.

“The board says that they’re going to protect the children, and they’re going to make sure that they get a better education if they go to another building, but actually that really hasn’t borne out,” she said. “So we believe the children really should be able to get a great education in their home neighborhood, and that’s really going to be the best thing for the neighborhood, for the families of Chicago, and certainly for the children of those communities.”

The district has said many schools simply do not have enough students to stay open when CPS is facing a huge deficit. The district’s buildings have enough room for 500,000 students, but only 400,000 kids are enrolled in CPS.

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