|Mike Klonsky pic.|
Driving down Lake Street on the city's west side Monday, I stopped to take a look at the former Dett Elementary School. Dett was one of the 49 schools closed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013 for "underutilization" after its population dropped precipitously. Instead of being re-purposed, now, eight years later, the building still sits boarded-up and graffitied, a costly, dangerous blight on the neighborhood.
Back in 2016, there was a plan to turn Dett into a center for women and girls or an artist incubator but potential buyers for the building backed out. So CPS was stuck with it. Neighborhood students were instead assigned to nearby Herbert or enrolled in charter schools.
Today students are back in school in Chicago with classrooms packed to overcapacity. Many schools are overcrowded with some kindergarten classrooms stuffed with more than 30 children, a horrifying thought in the middle of this deadly pandemic when there's not yet a vaccine available for young children.
The lack of available classroom space forced the board to roll back its distancing requirement from six feet to three feet "wherever possible" with unmasked kids often eating together, shoulder-to-shoulder in school lunchrooms. In the high schools, we're seeing images of students, many unvaxed, packed together in crowded hallways between classes.
I can't even imagine being a short-handed teacher, trying to keep up with 32 or so kinders, keeping them masked and at least three feet apart, all the while trying to do some great teaching. And yet, like so many heroic doctors, nurses, and front-line medical staff, teachers are giving it their best shots. But I doubt this mode is sustainable.
CPS is operating in crisis mode in a churning sea of divisive state politics, racial segregation and inequities, all exacerbated by the resurgent Delta variant.
Schooling in a pandemic and preparation for post-pandemic schooling offers a chance for school planners and educators to take a more holistic approach and to try and undo the damage done by the mass closing of schools a decade ago.
The idea that we still have boarded-up school buildings and schools in some neighborhoods with excess classroom space, while in others, students are dangerously jammed together, is mind-boggling.