From the March-April 2012 issue of News & Letters
Chicago—Several hundred people rallied against Chicago’s school “turnarounds” on Feb. 20 and marched to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house. Many marchers wore stickers over their mouths that read “Silenced” or “Excluded,” symbolizing how the mayor and his school board have run roughshod over schools without listening to parents, students, teachers or other school employees.
The board, obeying the mayor’s corporate agenda, periodically picks several schools to close or “turn around,” that is, privatize. The politically connected, union-busting Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) has taken over 25 schools already.
This was part of a series of protests. One was at the Winnetka home of Timothy Cawley, chief administrative officer for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Another was a four-day sit-in outside Emanuel’s office. Earlier, an Occupy-style mic-check took over a school board meeting for 20 minutes.
And on Feb. 17-18, parents and students occupied Piccolo School, slated for turnaround. After Occupy Chicago and others answered their call for support, nearly 100 people had gathered to defend the occupation from the police, who backed off.
“Piccolo has failed because CPS has refused to invest in public education,” occupiers said in a statement. “The school has struggled for years but you have taken out all the programs, classes and opportunities to learn.”
To no one’s surprise, on Feb. 22 the board rubber-stamped this year’s plan, closing seven more schools and “turning around” ten—all on the Black and Latino South and West Sides and Humboldt Park.
Quite a few marchers were from Occupy Chicago, Teachers for Social Justice, Communities United Against Foreclosures and Evictions, and other groups. Following is some of what we heard from a variety of speakers.
This is a civil rights issue. They are segregating our schools for their own personal use. We want a real investment in our neighborhood schools. We are taught that we live in a democracy where we have equal rights and living conditions, but it’s not true. We have been silenced, excluded and pushed around.
—Diamond McCullough, sophomore at Dyett High
We don’t have money for books, resources, programs, and computers. But we have $2 million to turn over your school to a private company and throw away the teachers and principals.
—Latina community activist
Only 18% of the schools that have replaced closed schools are high-performing. Of that 18%, 50% are selective-enrollment schools. It’s the new form of segregation. Black and Brown children are blocked from having a quality education.
—Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization
Who are the biggest gangbangers in Chicago? Rahm Emanuel and [CPS Superintendent] Jean-Claude Brizard. Just like drug dealers, they don’t care how they get their money. Where are Rahm’s kids? In a private school. This isn’t a race issue. This is about money. Your kids are just meat to Emanuel and Brizard.
—Brian Jackson, parent of a Tilden Academy High student
It’s no education plan. It’s a business plan. It’s a 1% plan. We need decent working conditions for teachers, decent learning conditions for students, equitable resources, support and funding for all schools. We need an immediate moratorium on all proposed school actions.
—Rico Gutstein of Teachers for Social Justice