CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Teachers Union wanted to give a busload of people a first-hand look Thursday at neighborhoods that would be affected by plans to close more than 50 public schools.
Singing the civil rights anthem “Woke Up This Morning,” Congressman Bobby Rush called it “The Freedom Bus.”
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports the CTU hoped the bus tour would be an eye-opener about school closings. The union hoped the bus tour would help educate aldermen and other elected officials about the impacts of school closings.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, “This is just going to be sort of our take on it, and I’m not going to apologize for it being our take.”
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) said he took the bus tour because he’s concerned about the school closings, and feels he hasn’t received enough information about the plans.
“We’ve been left in the dark about this, I feel,” he said. “We have never heard the magic number for school closings. Is it 10 kids in a class? Is it 15? Is it 20? And then, if it’s 20, are you merging two schools with 20 kids in a class, and putting 40 kids in a class? … That’s not good for educating kids.”
The union packed a luxury coach with elected officials, religious and community leaders, and reporters; to give them a glimpse at some of the schools on the chopping block, and an earful about the impact of closing 53 schools.
One activist on the bus said, “The key people who should be involved in the beginning aren’t. We have to play catch-up to a game that’s created by people on the Fifth Floor in a corrupt city like Chicago.”
A grandmother on the tour said, “Our kids will have to go across gang lines to go into another school. They already don’t feel safe with the welcoming school.”
Safety concerns for students headed to a new school were highlighted by a mile-plus walk between Genevieve Melody Elementary School – slated to be closed – and Edward C. Delano Elementary – the receiving school about a half-mile away.
The walk included a stroll past gang lines, drug deals, and horrible blight.
“We have children that are as young as preschool and kindergarten, and have to walk alone, or with a sibling that may be a grade above them. And they have to walk through this. We have broken glass, broken sidewalk, abandoned properties,” one CTU organizer said while walking past a vacant building with a broken door open to the street. “I mean, look at this. This isn’t even closed. They can easily take a child right in that building.”
Congressman Danny Davis said he has “tremendous concerns” about the school closings.
“I’m not sure that just closing schools are going to necessarily result in a higher quality of education for young people,” he said.
A Chicago Public Schools spokesperson said students who have to walk more than 8 tenths of a mile – roughly six blocks – will be bussed for the first year. Beyond that is unclear.
CPS officials have said the closures are necessary for budgetary and educational reasons. They have said the district can’t afford to keep dozens of half-empty schools open while facing a projected $1 billion budget shortfall.
The district said it plans to use the money saved by closing 53 schools and 61 buildings to provide additional resources at the so-called “welcoming schools” where students are transferred.