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CHICAGO (CBS)– The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday voted to close 49 elementary schools, in what is believed to be the biggest single mass shutdown of schools in U.S. history.
Initially, a total of 53 elementary schools were on the chopping block, but four of them were spared.
RELATED: The List Of Closed Schools
The closings are part of a plan for the Chicago Public Schools to plug a $1 billion budget deficit. The schools to be shut down were identified by CPS as having too few students or failing to meet academic standards.
One of the school closings will be delayed for a year, another will be delayed for two years, and a school not on the closing list will be spared from a major staff overhaul known as a “turnaround.”
The closings represent 10 percent of the 472 elementary schools in the CPS system.
The Board of Education began meeting shortly after at 10:30 a.m. to discuss and vote on proposed school closings and turnarounds.
With one exception, the board voted unanimously to close the 49 schools and keep the four schools open. The board voted 4-2 to close Von Humboldt Elementary. Board members Carlos Azcoitia and Jesse Ruiz voted against the closure.
The board also vote to close one high school program. Mason School was a K-11 school. It will now become a K-8 school.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett decided to withdraw her recommendations to close Marcus Garvey Elementary School, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, George Manierre Elementary School, and Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy.
The board agreed and kept those schools open.
The 49 elementary schools will be shut down at the end of this school year, except for two.
The planned closing of Miriam Canter Middle School will be delayed until next year. Crispus Attucks Elementary School will close in two years.
“Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago,” Chicago Teachers’ Union President Karen Lewis said in a statement. “Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children.”
Before the vote, there was two hours of public comment on the school closings. The proceedings were interrupted at times by protesters who were removed from the hearing when they began shouting as others were taking their turns to speak.
Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz told CBS 2 there were “various reasons” behind the decisions to halt or delay the closings of those five schools.
“Some of them, they have increasing enrollment trends, some have special programs for special needs children, and others are trending in the right direction in terms of their academics,” Ruiz said. “So there’s various reasons why she was consistently looking at each of the schools, each of the criterion, and making very difficult decisions for each of the communities impacted.”
Opponents of school closings said, no matter the result of Wednesday’s board meeting, they plan to fight school closings until the end. Several parents were in Springfield on Wednesday to lobby lawmakers for a proposed moratorium on school closings.
After the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement: “I know this is incredibly difficult, but I firmly believe the most important thing we can do as a city is provide the next generation with a brighter future.”