More school closings are underway in Chicago. In the Englewood neighborhood, which was hit hard by the shuttering of some 50 schools in 2013, there will be no public high schools left should the city follow through on the latest plan.
The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) claims the community requested the school closings this year but many people in the affected neighborhoods question that claim. Raise Your Hand, a public education advocacy group, spoke to one parent, a member of the Local School Council of Harper High School, one of the schools that’s slated for closure. Clifford Fields, who has been an active community member in West Englewood for decades, said that no one from the LSC, the elected parent body that oversees Harper High, was invited to be part of the group that that signed off on closing every public high school in Englewood.
In an interview with Raise Your Hand, Fields had blunt words for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials who, as he put it, “are treating our kids like they are cars, just trying to shuffle them around.” Fields also cited Chicago’s gang problem, which prevents children in areas like Englewood from moving safely even from block to block. “But you want to shift our kids to other schools in other neighborhoods.” Fields called on officials to redirect resources to schools like Harper. Field’s children graduated from Harper and TEAM Englewood. He was also a Local School Council member at Goodlow elementary, which was part of the 2013 closings.
Raise Your Hand questions how CPS can close four neighborhood high schools in Englewood next fall, leaving not one public high school in the area. Officials are claiming that they will build a new high school in 2019, but what are students supposed to do next fall? What kind of message does this send to the families in Englewood?
CPS needs an elected school board for so many reasons—the right of basic democratic representation chief among them. This broken facilities management and school action process, however, certainly encapsulates the poor decision-making that results from an unaccountable, appointed board who ultimately do not have to answer to the key stakeholders in our public school system, the families directly served by the schools. Despite having passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly this spring, our legislative leaders failed to bring a bill that would establish an elected school board for Chicago to the Governor’s desk this fall. As this latest school action announcement makes clear, we will and must keep pushing for Chicago voters and public school parents to have the same rights as all other Illinois residents have.
Without a robust, authentic community engagement process that creates a real, comprehensive, city-wide facilities plan, CPS should put a hold on closing and opening schools. This will not happen until CPS has an elected representative school board. We understand that CPS has a number of schools with very low enrollment, and that is problematic. This has been exacerbated by CPS irresponsibly opening dozens of charter schools during declining enrollment. Only three of the 39 schools opened since the mass school closings were in areas of over-enrollment. The district lost 30k students in 10 years, yet CPS continued to open more schools.