CHICAGO (CBS) — Facing an intense baclkash from many in the Englewood community, Chicago Public Schools officials have backtracked on their plans to close four high schools in the neighborhood at the end of the school year, and will instead phase those schools out gradually while the district moves forward with plans for a new $85 million facility to replace them.
In December, CPS officials announced 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 the new Englewood High School, which would be built on the site of Robeson, and open in 2019.
On Tuesday, CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson announced, while Robeson would still close at the end of the year to make way for construction of the new Englewood High School, the district will delay closing Harper, Hope, and Team Englewood for three years, so any existing students can finish their high school careers at their current schools if they choose.
“The more we talked to you, the more important we heard it was for some students to stay and graduate from their current school,” Jackson said in a video posted on Twitter.
Jackson said any students who want to transfer to other schools will be given any assistance they need. She also said the district is willing to modify the Englewood plan further “to ensure it supports all students.”
“Building Englewood a world-class high school remains our goal,” Jackson said.
Under the revised plan, Hope, Harper, and Team Englewood will stop accepting freshmen starting next school year. Students in those school areas will be assigned to other neighborhood high schools in 2018, and to the new Englewood High School in 2019.
Aysha Butler, an activist who has been fighting to keep the four Englewood schools open, called the district’s abrupt about-face a “bittersweet victory.”
“I’m really excited that the voices of the community, and students, and parents were heard; and that this plan that so many of us in the community was against is now something different,” she said. “So it is exciting, because we had never wanted any of our neighborhood schools to close.”
Originally, the district planned to transfer existing students at Harper, Hope, Robeson, and TEAM Englewood to other schools. The new Englewood High School would open to freshmen only in 2019.
Last month, a public meeting on the original Englewood school plan turned into a shouting match, as arguments between opponents and supporters escalated.
Students asked why they had to be shipped off to other schools during the 2018-19 school year instead of remaining in their existing schools.
“I’m here today because y’all shouldn’t be closing down our schools,” said Harper student Ashley Rodriguez. “Y’all have $85 million to put into a new school. Y’all should be putting that into our (existing) schools. Give us more academics and more for us students to do.”
Other opponents said redrawing attendance lines would place students in dangerous conditions.
Supporters said students could learn more at a new school and said a new building could evoke pride.
“They (the existing buildings) don’t have basic general science. They don’t have math. And yet, they want to aspire to be an astronaut. We need to give them a brighter future,” said C.J. Pruitt, who described herself as a mother of six.
The revised plan will allow any Harper, Hope, and TEAM Englewood students who want to stay at their current schools to do so until they graduate, while any students that wish to change schools will be given assistance in choosing a new school and will receive free CTA cards to get to and from school every day.
The Chicago Board of Education could vote on the revised Englewood plan as soon as its next meeting on Feb. 28.