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CPS parents mark Brown v. Board of Education decision by highlighting present-day challenges



CPS parent ZerlinSmith talks about her sit-experience last night Gresham School help commemorate 60th anniversary Brown v. Bd. Ed. across

CPS parent Zerlina Smith talks about her sit-in experience last night at Gresham School to help commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Bd. of Ed. across the street from the closed Pope School. Saturday, May 17, 2014. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: June 23, 2014 12:54PM

Chicago Public Schools parent Zerlina Smith spent the first minute of the day Saturday inside Gresham Elementary School on the South Side.

She had been at the proposed turnaround school all Friday evening. But being part of a sit-in to demand a meeting with top district officials on the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling meant something to her.

“We wanted to make sure that we set another historic mark for the anniversary. We made sure we walked out at 12:01 a.m.,” said Smith, a local school council member and a parent of a student at Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy in Little Village.

“I have a 5-year-old. I have a long haul. I can’t afford private education,” Smith said. “I can barely afford to get my child to school. I can’t afford it, so I have to fight for public education.”

Smith joined hundreds, including CPS teachers, parents and grassroots organizers, to mark the anniversary outside Pope Elementary School on the Southwest Side Saturday morning, one of 50 CPS schools shuttered last year. The historic ruling struck down state laws that allowed segregation in public schools and declared “separate is not equal.”

“Sixty years later, we find ourselves in a situation, not just in the City of Chicago, but nationally, where schools are in fact as separate and definitely more unequal than they were 60 years ago because of the gap growing of income inequality,” said Marc Kaplan, a local school council member at Uplift Community High School in Uptown, and member of Northside Action for Justice.

“The way that this [school] board has chosen to distribute resources, clearly there is totally inequality.”

Kaplan was among dozens going door to door after the rally, asking residents to become “education voters,” and paying attention to how their local aldermen, state representatives and even their mayor are dealing with education funding.

Many speakers on Saturday spoke of their support for the School Funding Reform Act of 2014, which was introduced last month and is expected to come up for a vote in the Illinois Senate next week. The new legislation would change how public education funding is divvied up, giving more money to districts with lower property taxes.

Adourthus McDowell, of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said the Brown v. Board anniversary marks “a day of action.”

“We’re standing today, with other cities in Mississippi, in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans. It’s a day where we will say that school closings and all the other policies that are harming out communities will no longer be tolerated,” McDowell said. “We’re here to say that this will no longer be tolerated in America.”

In a statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said ensuring quality education for all children remains the “civil rights issue of our day,” but said children in Chicago “are fortunate to have talented teachers, strong principals, and communities who are invested in their success.”

“As a result Chicago’s students have achieved record rates of high school graduation, college enrollment and persistence and the trends and lead indicators for the future are promising,” Byrd-Bennett said in the statement. “Six decades after the passage of Brown v. Board of Education we are reminded of how far we have come and how far we must go to provide every child, regardless of their zip code, with equitable access to a high-quality education.”


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