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Opponents Vow To Keep Fighting, Despite Vote To Close 49 Elementary Schools

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The decision to close 49 elementary schools in Chicago is done, but bitterness over the move lingered Thursday morning, as the Chicago Teachers Union vowed to continue their fight against the closings, and parents and students protested the looming closure of their schools.

The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close 49 elementary schools – all but two of them at the end of the current school year – despite impassioned pleas from teachers and parents to keep those schools open.

Thursday morning, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett defended the closings, saying the decision was made to close them only after lengthy consideration and multiple public hearings. She also stood by her decision to withdraw plans to close four other schools that had been on the original list of 53.

“I listened – as I committed to this community – to every bit of input, reviewed every bit of data, and had ongoing deliberative conversations with the board; and I think that if you make recommendations, and you have additional evidence, you modify those recommendations,” she said. “Ultimately, the decision was the board’s.”

Lawyers for the Chicago Teachers Union have filed two federal lawsuits seeking to block the school closings, and union officials have vowed to continue that fight.

They have claimed the closings will harm special education students and other students with disabilities at schools targeted for closing. The union also has said the closings are racist, since the vast majority of affected students are African-American.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, “The fight in the court’s about the discriminatory effects of this on special education students and on African-American students, and hopefully the courts will act on that sooner, rather than later.”

The union has also vowed political consequences for the school closings, saying it will register voters for future city elections, and seek candidates to run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and some aldermen.

Meantime, dozens of parents protested outside one of the schools on the closing list Thursday morning. Parents and students marching outside Jean D. Lafayette Elementary School at 2714 W. Augusta Blvd. said they don’t want to send their children to another school.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports protesters said Lafayette has the largest Autism and special needs program in the district, so they’ll do all they can to keep the doors open.

Meanwhile, in the Hyde Park neighborhood, parents and students at Canter Middle School were relieved to hear that, although their school will close, the move will be delayed until June 2014.

The school’s 8th grade class graduates in a few weeks, while the current 7th grade class will return for one more year.

Patrick Driver said, “I was very surprised and I was happy about that, so she won’t have to … go back to her old school. That’s the best thing they could have did, I believe.”

Mikia Dameron said, “I’m happy that my son gets to stay one more year and finish out his 8th grade here, but for the kids that’s coming from Shoesmith; like, I have another son at Shoesmith, he won’t be able to experience what my son was experiencing here at Canter.”

Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School is a nearby elementary school, where many students used to move on to Canter when they reached middle school.

Another school being closed, Crispus Attucks Elementary School, also will be phased out rather than shut down immediately. Its closing will be delayed until June 2015.