CHICAGO (CBS) — A group of parents from three elementary schools that are closing on the South Side took a trip to the North Side on Thursday, and tried to enroll their kids at a school whose name is synonymous with wealth and privilege.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the parents met at Parkman Elementary School in the Englewood neighborhood, and headed to Pritzker Elementary School in the Wicker Park neighborhood to demand their children be enrolled.
“Guess who’s coming to dinner, because we’re coming up north, and we’re going to enroll our children … and you’re going to treat them as good as you treat these white babies up north,” activist Jitu Brown said. “The problem is not these white babies up north. They’re not the problem. They deserve a world-class education, but so do our babies.”
The parents who took the trip to Pritzker have children at Parkman, Overton and Williams elementary schools, three of the 49 elementary schools slated to close this summer.
Brown, a community activist with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, led the parents on their visit to Pritzker, choosing the school because it’s named after businessman A.N. Pritzker, whose sons expanded the family business and created the Hyatt hotel chain, making the Pritzker family one of the wealthiest in the nation.
Pritzker’s granddaughter, Penny Pritzker, was a member of the Board of Education until she stepped down earlier this year, ahead of her nomination to be the next U.S. Commerce Secretary. She has been a frequent target of Chicago Teachers Union criticism.
The group said Pritzker Elementary is an example of the Chicago Public Schools treating schools in white neighborhoods differently than those in minority areas.
“It’s an example of schools on a different side of town where there’s a different set of priorities,” Brown said. “There is a two-tiered education system in the city of Chicago that is racist and discriminatory; that has a lower set of expectations for African-American children and Latino children, and a higher set of expectations for children that happen to be white.”
Parents walked into Pritzker Elementary singing, “We who believe in education will not rest until it’s done,” and came out singing a different tune after they were told there’s a waiting list to enroll there.
“It’s the color of our skin which has not allowed us to register our kids in this school. That’s what it is,” one mother said.
Brown said some schools on the North Side have lower enrollment rates than schools on the South and West sides that Chicago Public Schools officials have said must be closed because of low enrollment.
“But those schools weren’t even on the list to close, and they shouldn’t be on the list to close, because they have smaller class sizes; because they are able to make use of the space in their building to provide options for young people,” Brown said.
He said some of those elementary schools on the North Side offer art, drama, music, library, physical education, and foreign language classes not offered at their counterparts on the South and West sides.
Brown acknowledged the event was a bit of theater, but said there was more to it than that.
“If this was theatrics, then we’ll take a bow, but at the end of the day, we’re saying whatever tactics we have to use to expose this two-tiered education system, we’ll do it,” he said.
The group encouraged other parents of kids at schools slated for closing to fight for their schools.