Friday, January 30, 2009

Rally calls for moratorium on school closings

By Pepe Lozano
People's Weekly World, Jan. 30, 2009

CHICAGO – Hundreds of teachers, parents, students, union leaders and local activists rallied here Jan. 28th at the Chicago Board of Education building against the boards plan to close, consolidate, phase out and turnaround more than 20 schools. Protesters led a march downtown chanting with signs in hand speaking out against the measure which they say will displace students and teachers, throw communities in turmoil, put hundreds out of work and undermine public education in Chicago.

"I'm a soon to be displaced nationally certified teacher," said Daisy Sharp who has been teaching at Oliver Wendall Holmes in the Engelwood community for the last six years.

Holmes is slated for "turnaround," which means that everyone at the school including maintenance, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals will be laid off. "Why are they firing everyone, some who have been working here for more than 25 years," she asked.

"The number one thing we need to do is to vote Mayor Daley out of office and squash his Renaissance 2010 plan because it's all lies and big business." Not only is Daley trying to privatize our schools he's also trying to bust our union, she said.

Sandy Schultz is the educational issues coordinator with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). "We are here to protest and mourn the death of public schools in Chicago," she said. Shultz taught in Chicago for 32 years before working for the union.

"We feel that schools can be turned around one at a time with a smart educational plan that includes proper funding, adequate supplies and books," said Shultz. "Renaissance 2010 is part of a privatization plan to force the union out and weaken our membership."

The CTU represents 32,000 teachers and is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. The demonstration was organized by a coalition of nearly a dozen groups including the CTU.

CTU President Marilyn Stewart was at the rally and helped organize the protest. "This is a grassroots effort and we're calling for an immediate moratorium on school closings," said Stewart. "It's not right that teachers and parents have to look for new jobs and the board should not be making decisions for our children," she added. "Teachers are tired of being disrespected and we know we could make Chicago a model for the nation but not by proposing to close our schools."

Critics charge Renaissance 2010 is part of a long-term privatization scheme of public education being pushed by Daley, who took control of the school system in 1995. Many believe school closings target poor neighborhoods where populations are decreasing due to destruction of public housing and skyrocketing rents.

The heart of the problem, many say, is George W. Bush's unpopular No Child Left Behind law.

The school district contends that many of the schools in question have low enrollment and are failing academically. Yet others believe modest gains have been made in recent test scores. While others claim that such standards under No Child are a highly flawed indicator of actual learning.

Of the 400,000 students in the Chicago school system, 46.5 percent are African American, 39.1 percent are Latino and 8 percent white.

Charles Hurst lives in the South Shore neighborhood and is a member of a local school council there. He's upset how the school board does not involve community input regarding school closings. "It's our recommendation that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) put money into the present schools and allow them to stay in place and lessen the possibility of violence or harm to our children in the neighborhood," he said. Hurst fears children will be in harms way if they have to travel outside their neighborhood in gang- infested areas.

Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago's school system and now Secretary of
Education led the closing of nearly 70 schools since 2001. Currently there are more than 50 Renaissance schools, which receive corporate funding and are privately operated. Half of the members with the CTU could be forced out of the union by 2020 under the plan.

Since 2004, Renaissance 2010 has led to private-run charter and contract schools that push out teachers and students and outsourcing education in low-income communities targeted by City Hall for real-estate development. Educators and supporters at the protest say Renaissance 2010 fails to take in consideration what parents, teachers and students feel and does a poor job including them in the process of decision making when it comes to closing schools or turnarounds.

Maria Ibarez is in the eight-grade at Carpenter elementary on the city's north side. Her school is on the closing list. "I'm here because I want to help save my school," she said. "It's our second home and it's a community school that opens its doors to us."

Ibarez's father Jose Luis joined her at the rally with his family. "It's not fair what is happening," he said. Mr. Ibarez said they are closing his daughters' school because there is not enough children enrolled, the building is too old and it has low-test scores.

"None of these are true," said Mr. Ibarez. "I know the students and they are all very bright and they deserve a chance. We are one of the best schools in the city," he said. Mr. Ibarez is hoping CPS officials will visit the school before deciding to close. "Please come and see our school and get to know the students, teachers and families before you take away the children's education." He added, "Don't close our school for the sake of our children who are the future of this country."

Meanwhile Daley recently appointed Ron Huberman as the new CEO of CPS. Huberman is a former police officer and recently served as president of the Chicago Transit Authority. Many feel he is unfit for the job and out of his league especially because he has no background in education.

The Board of Education plans to hold public hearings about the closings and is expected to make its final decisions at its meeting next month.

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