With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Outside closed Lafayette School this morning

Lafayette Save Our School Protest in 2013
School closings have done nothing to improve the education of CPS students, nor have they saved money, but the same policies that led to massive closures continue to be implemented. -- CTU Report
This morning I'm standing outside of the former Lafayette Elementary School talking to NBC Chicago's Phil Rogers on the anniversary of D-Day (Devastation Day). That was the day when Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, ignoring massive community opposition, closed 50 public schools, including Lafayette, leaving many black and Latino neighborhoods in shambles and disrupting the lives of thousands of children and their families.

Of the 49 closed elementary schools, 90% had mostly African-American students, while 71% had a majority African-American faculty. All in all, the closings amounted to shuttering 25% of all CPS schools that had majority African-American students. Here in East Humboldt Park, the closing of Lafayette left this largely-Latino community without a single neighborhood school. It's no different over in Bronzeville where they are closing Dyett, the last remaining open-enrollment school in the area.

I suppose some of the credit for all this goes to Paul Vallas, now running for IL Lt. Governor on the Dem. ticket with Gov. Quinn. It was Vallas whose final solution for the end of public schools finally came to fruition last month when the New Orleans Recovery School District permanently shuttered its last five traditional public schools. The is apparently Rahm Emanuel's game plan here in Chicago.

As a researcher, I'm telling Rogers that it's been difficult, if not impossible, to get any good numbers or any solid, believable information from CPS about fallout from the closings, without filing a FOIA request. Even those are unenforceable and generally ignored by Byrd-Bennett's crew.

I tell him, in a city where there's no elected school board and where the mayor has total dictatorial power over the schools, real numbers have political impact, and in an election year (isn't every year?) all we can expect out of Rahm's army of PR damage-controllers is the good news (Yes, CPS new Liar-In-Chief Joel Hood, we know that no children been killed yet during the hours of 7-8 a.m., while walking through the cordon of Safe Passage workers).

But while hundreds of parents breathe a sigh of relief each day, when their 9-year-olds make it home in one piece after school, that's not much for such a devastating and disruptive policy to hang its hat on. There's a certain absurdity embedded in the words, Safe Passage, and behind the proposition that in a city like Chicago, in 2014, thousands of elementary school children have to traverse a cordon of security guards and cops just to go to school each morning.

A year after the closings, we still don't know where hundreds of children, who never made it to their assigned "receiving schools," ended up. What we do know is that many of those children are now sitting in overcrowded and under-resourced classrooms in inner-ring suburbs, part of the quiet exodus of hundreds of thousands of African-Americans from Chicago.

We do know from anecdotal research that relationships between teachers and students have been shattered, further destabilizing the lives of children, many of whose lives already are lacking in stability. What effect, direct or indirect, this destabilization has had on the city's wave of shootings and gun violence has yet to be determined, but it can't be good.

We do know that Rahm's companion piece to the school closings has been the re-directing of funds and resources towards the unconstrained expansion of privately-run charter schools, "turnarounds," and selective-enrollment schools in upscale northside neighborhoods. Here at Lafayette, they're replacing a poorly-resourced (they call it "underutilized) school with ChiArts, a terrific, but highly-selective, arts school currently housed in Bronzeville.

I point out to Phil that Lafayette already had a wonderful arts and music program--including a string orchestra. The difference? Lafayette was open to all kids while ChiArts is open only to the chosen few. Talk about under-utilization!

Since Byrd-Bennett had promised (and BBB always keeps her promises, right?) the community that no charters would be inserted into the closed school, ChiArts is being call a contract school, run by a private board with no union or collective bargaining rights for teachers. Get the difference? Me neither.

Workmen renovating former Lafayette building.
The best information we have on post-D Day comes from a report from the CTU's research department, Twelve Months Later: The Impact of School Closings in Chicago. This report confirms earlier evidence coming out of Catalyst and the university-based research group CReATE, showing a trail of broken promises, mismanagement, and hidden agendas behind the closings. For example, millions of dollars in promised renovation funds for receiving schools were never delivered. Many children ended up in schools that were doing no better or even worse that the schools that were closed. CPS had promised a library to every student, as well as iPads for all students in grades 3 through 8. But only 38% of the receiving schools even have libraries and librarians, compared with 55% of elementary schools citywide (itself a shockingly low number). Many kids who were receiving high-quality special-education services now aren't.

Some 40 neighborhoods are now left with shuttered school buildings, further blighting already resource-starved communities. But Lafayette is being fully renovated and I walked with the NBC News crew around to the Augusta Street side of the building to show them the tuckpointing and landscaping job now being done on the massive Lafayette structure. Despite repeated pleas from Lafayette's LSC, this work that was long denied when Lafayette was "just" a community school. And so it goes.

SPEAKING OF TRANSPARENCY... The Illinois Humanities Council is holding an appropriately-named panel, "The (Untold) Stories Behind the Story: Chicago's Historic School Closings" on June 19th from 6-9 P.M. at Wells High School. Panelist include: Catalyst founder, Linda Lenz (moderator); Linda Lutton from WBEZ; Sarah Karp, Deputy Editor, Catalyst Chicago; Sarah Schulte, Reporter, ABC 7 News; Charles Whitaker, Helen Gurley Brown Professor, Northwestern University Medill; and Sidney Trotter is a high school student at North Lawndale College Prep.

RSVP for this free event here.
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