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Updated 06/24/13 – 10:54 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s a bittersweet final day for thousands of students at Chicago Public Schools; at 19 elementary schools, it’s the last day of class before they close for good.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports the second stage of school closings was set to go into effect at the end of the day on Wednesday.
The schools closing Monday include: Buckingham, De Duprey, Dumas, Fermi, Garfield Park, Goodlow, Lawrence, Marconi, Mayo, Near North, Owens, Peabody, Pershing, Rose, Sexton, Stewart, Stockton, Trumbull, and Von Humboldt.
Near North Elementary School teacher Teresa Jordan said, “We’re sad that the school is closing. It’s out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do about it.
“We were under the impression that we would be able to follow our students; special ed teachers, obviously. We found out that that’s not going to be true, because many of our students – most of them – have been offered private options.”
Monday morning, the Borders household displayed all the signs of a typical school day, but with two children who graduated from Fermi, and five who must now watch it close for good, this school day was different.
“It’s heartbreaking, because Fermi was like a family,” said Desiree Borders, who is among the parents who fought to keep Fermi open.
She and her children were somewhere in the crowd of thousands protesting school closings last month.
“I love Fermi. I love the staff, the teachers, and they were just … very supportive, you know? They are helping hands,” Borders said.
Fermi is only two blocks from the family’s home. The new welcoming school, South Shore Fine Arts, is about a mile away; so Borders opted for South Shore Fine Arts Academy charter school, which shares a building with Fermi.
Though they won’t be going to a new building, no longer attending Fermi means it’s adjustment for the children.
“I’m going to miss teachers, and the principal, and the assistant principal, my friends,” said Fermi student Emmanuel Ephraim.
Last week, 28 schools on the year-round “Track E” calendar closed for good. On Monday, 19 on the traditional “Track R” calendar were set to close. Two more “Track R” schools – Canter Elementary and Attucks Elementary – will close in 2014 and 2015, respectively, after the Board of Education agreed to delay their demise.
At one of the schools that closed last week, Lafayette Elementary in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, parents took over a classroom and staged a four-hour sit-in, hoping to convince Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board to keep the school open.
Those parents were trying to save Lafayette’s music program, which faces an uncertain future when Lafayette’s students are moved to Chopin Elementary, seven blocks away. They also cited Lafayette’s extensive autism program, which does not exist at neighboring schools.
However, the mayor and CPS stuck with the plan to close Lafayette and the other 48 schools set to close.
A school librarian at Trumbull Elementary School in the Andersonville neighborhood said parents are still concerned about safety for students who will now go to one of three welcoming schools – Chappell, McPherson, or McCutcheon .
“I’m afraid for them. They’re going to have to cross some big streets. They’re going to have to go pretty far to get there. One of the neighborhoods is not as safe as the other neighborhoods,” Ruth Resnick said. “More than anything else, our family is being torn apart. We’re a school of over 400 children; over a third of our children are special needs children.”
The district has been working on plans to expand its Safe Passage Program to the welcoming schools where students from closed schools will be moved.
On Monday, CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett recommended hiring 19 community-based vendors, who would then hire 600 Safe Passage workers to man the routes to and from the welcoming schools.
Approximately 12,000 students will be moved from the schools that are closing to 51 welcoming schools, according to CPS.
The Board of Education will vote on Byrd-Bennett’s recommendation on Wednesday, and if approved, vendors would begin hiring and training Safe Passage workers next month.
Thirty-nine public schools already use the Safe Passage Program, designed to provide kids a safe route to and from school. The program is staffed by police officers, city workers, and community volunteers.
The Chicago Teachers Union has filed three lawsuits on behalf of parents at schools on the closing list, seeking court orders to halt the closings.
Two of those lawsuits were filed in federal court, where a judge has a four-day hearing on July 16 to decide whether to block the school closures.
The federal lawsuits argue the school closings amount to a civil rights violation against minority and disabled students.
The third lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court, where the original judge stepped down from the case, as she is moving on to an appellate court assignment next month.
In that case, the union argued CPS and the Board of Education should have followed hearing officers’ recommendations to keep 10 of the 49 schools open when the hearing officers found CPS did not follow proper guidelines.
The district has argued the hearing officers’ recommendations were non-binding. They also said the district filed responses to the hearing officers’ reports, arguing proper guidelines were followed.
The district plans to ask to have all three lawsuits thrown out.