Chicago School Closures Will Continue, Says Emanuel

Although there doesn’t seem to be much room for compromise to be found in Rahm Emanuel’s statement that the time for negotiations over schools closures in Chicago are over, people protesting the closure of 53 elementary schools around the city continue to march against the move. The downtown rally earlier this week that was organized by opponents of the city’s push to streamline its operations by closing schools and merging campuses still took place — even if its impact is likely to be nil.

Rally attendees enthusiastically welcomed remarks by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis who continued to insist that the fact that the majority of the closures were going to be in African-American neighborhood was proof that the selection process was rife with racism.

As is usual with events of this kind, getting an accurate number of rally attendees proved a challenge. While organizers said more than 6,000 people showed up either for the rally or the subsequent march, the police put the crowd at between 600 and 900 people.

Those at the protest were loud but disciplined, sticking to a script the CTU provided earlier in the day in a news release. Most of the vitriol was aimed at Emanuel, with protesters carrying signs that included “Rahm’s brain is underutilized” and “School Closings = One Term Mayor.”

David Kaplan, a ninth-grade biology teacher at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center on the Northwest Side, said many teachers at the rally came even though their schools, like Von Steuben, are not on the closings list.

The march also included a sit-in on LaSalle Street which runs outside City Hall, and the police broke up the sit-in by leading the protesters away. There were no clashes between those participating and police officers and no arrests related to the sit-in were reported, although 127 tickets were issued at the scene.

The issue of school closures has been a hot button topic in the city for months – and the period prior to the public announcement of the final list was marked by extreme tension between Chicago Public Schools officials and teachers unions and other closure opponents.

More than 20,000 people attended the CPS hearings on the issue and the plan to close 53 elementary schools and one high school was greeted by heated rhetoric from both sides.

The long-awaited announcement of how many schools the district wants to close fueled a fresh round of opposition from aldermen and community leaders. The CTU, which wants a moratorium on closings, has been preparing parents and community groups for civil disobedience acts like the sit-in on LaSalle.

Earlier Wednesday, in comments to reporters during an unrelated news conference, Emanuel said he’s moving forward on the closings plan and negotiations were over.