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School protesters take complaints to Mayor Emanuel’s neighborhood

Anti-school closing silent march past Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home Monday February 20 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Anti-school closing silent march past Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home Monday, February 20, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 22, 2012 8:15AM

Hundreds of anti-school closing protesters marched past Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house Monday, holding candles and wearing stickers over their mouths saying “silenced.”

Organizers charged the mayor and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard had ignored their cries to halt school closings and to put resources into schools to prevent their closure — rather than after a shakeup.

A crowd of what appeared to be more than 500 moved from an angry rally at Lakeview High School, west along Irving Park and then down the mayor’s quaint Hermitage block.

The protesters will be asking for a meeting with the mayor to discuss the seven school closings or phase-outs and the record 10 school “turnarounds” scheduled for a school board vote this Wednesday, said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

“People are fed up,” Brown said. “The hope is that the mayor understands that his constituents are serious, which is why we are doing it the way we are doing it, and that he gives audience to the people who elected him.”

This year’s list of schools proposed for shakeups by new Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has triggered an unusual number of protests, some of them highly organized. Brown said parents are angry that community plans for schools have been ignored while CPS has pushed forward with shakeups that, over the years, have turned some neighborhood schools into charter schools or selective schools where students of color no longer have guarantee of a seat.

Brown said protesters want struggling schools supported with resources, rather than starved and “sabotaged.” He referred to a recent comment by CPS Administrative Chief Tim Cawley, who said CPS would not be putting construction dollars and physical repairs into schools that may be closed in five or 10 years.

CPS officials have contended at public hearings that they have poured academic resources into targeted schools over the years but they have remained on probation for at least five years.

The protest targeting Emanuel, whose children attend the pricey University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, follows a weekend sit-in of Piccolo Elementary, which finally produced a meeting with School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz.

Other protests this year included a door-knocking campaign in Cawley’s Winnetka neighborhood, a four-day sit-in outside Emanuel’s fifth-floor City Hall office, and a more than 20-minute take-over of a Chicago School Board meeting, using “mike-check” tactics honed by Occupy Wallstreet protestors. Plus, local school council members have filed a suit to block the closings, charging they constitute a civil rights violation.

On the other side of the issue, “rent-a-protesters” emerged this year, saying they were paid at least $25 a head to carry anti-closing signs or to speak at closing hearings by a non-profit headed by Rev. Roosevelt Watkins III. Watkins, whose non-profit is a CPS contactor, has contended he paid protestors “stipends’‘ that were supposed to go to training on “community organizing,” although several protestors said they received no such training.

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