CHICAGO (CBS) — An alliance of activists staged a noisy protest Wednesday morning against the Chicago Public Schools’ plans to close four high schools in Englewood at the end of the school year, to make way for a new high school a year later.
“When our schools are under attack, what do we do?” a woman shouted as she led chanting protesters outside CPS headquarters.
“Stand up! Fight back!” the protesters yelled in answer.
CPS plans to close Harper, Hope, Robeson, and TEAM Englewood high schools in June. The district has said all four schools are under-enrolled, and the money saved by closing them will be used to help create a new $85 million high school for the Englewood neighborhood.
However, the new Englewood high school that would replace the four shuttered schools won’t be completed until the fall of 2019, forcing about 450 students to find another school to attend next school year.
Elected officials, union leaders, teachers, parents, and students gathered in the cold outside Wednesday’s Chicago Board of Education meeting to protest that plan.
Protesters have said the district’s plan is an attack on black and Latino students who will be forced to leave Englewood to attend a school outside their neighborhood next year.
Harper High School senior Tina Brown told the crowd closing South Side schools like hers is not only hurtful to the neighborhoods, but dangerous.
“If Harper closes, for example, students leaving school, students on sports teams, or even in school in the winter when it’s dark will have to go home in unfamiliar areas. Will that be in your safety plan?” she said.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jessie Sharkey said the plans for a new high school to replace the ones that will close don’t matter to kids at the existing schools.
“Turns out the students that are currently go … to TEAM Englewood, that go to Hope, that go to Harper, and that go to Robeson will not be given a spot at that school, even when it is built. It will only be available for new students coming through,” he said.
Lindblom Math & Science Academy senior Jasmine Curtis drew cheers when she slammed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for, in her view, strangling neighborhood schools. Curtis recalled the mayor’s decision to close 50 schools in 2013.
“Now he’s back at it again, choosing to again destabilize an already under-resourced and neglected neighborhood, by closing all of the public neighborhood high schools that are left,” she said.
Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins defended the district’s plan for schools in Englewood.
“This is a key step toward a significant investment in Englewood, as we build a new, state-of-the-art, $85 million high school in the neighborhood. Today, over 90% of Englewood CPS students leave their neighborhood for high school – more than any other neighborhood in the city. So that’s why we are going to provide Englewood youth with a new high school with music, art, health, and dance programming, and fields for baseball, softball, football and track,” he said in an email.
The district’s plan to close schools next year has not been finalized. The school board likely will vote on the plan in February.