CHICAGO – Hundreds of teachers, parents and students took to Chicago’s streets Saturday, the first of three days of marches to protest Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close dozens of city schools.
The show of force was meant to add weight to a pair of lawsuits filed in recent days. Police-escorted processions snaked through numerous neighborhoods, with protesters stopping at schools, chanting and holding signs with slogans such as “Quality Schools For All Kids.”
“It’s extremely important that we continue our fight for education justice,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said outside an elementary school on the city’s West Side.
The Chicago Board of Education is set to vote on the plan to close 54 schools in the coming days.
Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials say the shutdown of underused schools will help close a $1 billion budget shortfall. But Lewis, re-elected to a second three-year term Friday, promised the fight will not end with the school board’s vote.
Opposition has been bubbling for months from the CTU, which has a tense relationship with Emanuel. Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district went on strike for seven days last year over contracts, classroom conditions and other issues. Word of possible school closures also was an undercurrent to the walkout.
Since then, Illinois lawmakers have considered a moratorium on the proposed closures and school officials have held numerous community meetings with highly charged testimony from neighborhood residents. And in the past week, the union filed two lawsuits arguing that closures would violate the civil rights of students with disabilities and children who are black. Opponents say the closures disproportionately affect minorities.
Parents say the closures also threaten student safety, as children may have to cross gang boundaries to get to new schools.
Earlier in the week, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle blasted the school closing plan as detrimental to children in an interview published Thursday with the Chicago Sun-Times.
Among the marchers Saturday was 19-year-old Raymond Duran. The Chicago Public Schools graduate is studying to be a teacher.
“Having to walk further to school is a problem,” he said.
Others in the crowd were most concerned with the impact on minority students and teachers.
“The school closures are going to exacerbate the displacement of thousands of black students,” said CTU organizer and teacher Brandon Johnson. “It’s going to cause tremendous harm to the working-class within this city.”
Members of Service Employees International Union and other unions also joined the activities.
The marches were to continue until Monday when participants were expected to converge downtown with a rally.
Contact Sophia Tareen at https://www.twitter.com/sophiatareen