Mayor isn’t promising to follow hearing officers’ school-closing recommendations
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporters May 8, 2013 12:48PM
Updated: June 10, 2013 2:03PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he appreciates the work done by hearing officers who want to keep open 13 of 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing but made no promises to follow their recommendations.
In fact, Emanuel hinted strongly that recommendations made by the retired judges — stemming from concerns about the security of some students and the special education needs of others — would not be followed by his handpicked school board.
“The board will take what they’ve said [and] work through it, but do what we need to do as a city because this…has been deferred through the years…We haven’t addressed it in the past — both on the academic side and on the financial side,” Emanuel said of the politically-volatile issue of school closings.
“We have to make the changes that are necessary so our children don’t continue to go to schools that are not achieving the goals that they need to achieve academically and locking them into schools that can’t do that.”
The retired judges did not mince their words as they questioned school closings, they warned, could endanger some students, fail to put others in a better school, as Emanuel has promised, and ignore the needs of special education students.
The mayor said Wednesday he “appreciates their work” and “appreciates the 20,000 people who showed up” at the exhaustive set of CPS hearings.
But he reiterated that the time for compromising is over and the time for implementation is here.
“A lot of people put a lot of time into it. I appreciate that work…I’m sure the board will read it. Simultaneously, we’re now getting ready to start to fix up the receiving schools, which had never gotten that before,” the mayor said.
“Steve Georgas who ran the security operations in preparation for NATO, is reviewing and updating and working on every one of the 54 safe passage plans. Barbara [Byrd-Bennett, schools CEO] and the schools are working on the cultural, academic and educational needs and commitments we’ve made. So everybody is participating. Everybody has a role to play in this change. It is not just a CPS-driven process. So the implementation is going forward.”
Emanuel bristled when told that some impacted parents believe the mayor will have “blood on his hands” if even one displaced student gets hurt on his or her way to a new school.
“Whenever anybody is hurt in the city, I have a responsibility — regardless of whether I did anything here or not,” the mayor said.
“My responsibility doesn’t start just when, because of consolidations or a school action, a child is harmed. My responsibility starts when the doors to the future of a child are closed because we did not take responsibility and were not accountable [for making] the tough decisions that are necessary to build a better future.”
On Wednesday, dozens of parents, students and community members stood on the second floor of City Hall to ask Emanuel to join in walking the new routes, in hopes of convincing him to keep the doors open at schools slated for closing. Since April, groups of parents have walked the new routes to point out problems along the way.
“What do we want from the mayor today? We want him to call off the closings. We want him to try to do a resolution to do a moratorium on school closings,” Valencia Rias-Winstead, a Southeast Side community organizer said Wednesday. “Springfield has tried to do it, but everyone wants to bow down to ‘King Emanuel.’”
Dozens of elementary students carried signs that read “Support Our Schools. Don’t Close Them.” The group chanted “Mayor Emanuel, take your hands off our schools.”
The rally came a day after independent hearing officers — all retired judges — opposed closing 10 schools for various reasons, including safety and the lack of specialization for special needs students.
Although many are concerned over the safety plans, CPS says it has been working with the Chicago Police Department to create customized Safe Passage routes for each school. The “draft” safety plans are expected to be released school-by-school in the coming weeks, according to CPS. From those plans, parents and students will be able to offer input and revisions.
“We will not allow Mayor Emanuel to divide us and split us,” Chitunda Tillman Sr. said outside City Hall, as the group marched. “We are opposed to all school closings.”
Tillman is a parent of a 3-year-old and two teenagers, and said he’s concerned about how special-education students at Morgan will assimilate to life at Ryder.
“We have to keep Morgan open. Our special needs population have all the facilities they need, an elevator, programs. Our scores are better,” Tillman said. “And we don’t want to be forced to go to Ryder.”
Latausha Campbell, a mother of four, including two special needs children who currently attend Morgan, said she’s proud of the progress her children have made at the South Side elementary school, which has six Trainable Mentally Handicapped (TMH) classes.
“I’ve seen progress. I also work with them at home,” Campbell said. “And as far as them meeting their goals, I definitely see that at home.”
Others focused on the fear they have for their children crossing over into dangerous territories.
Sherise McDaniel is a parent of a student at Manierre, a school in which the hearing officer worried about student safety.
“Parents testified as to physical attacks they and their children had suffered at the hands of gang members and students from Jenner,” retired Judge Paddy McNamara wrote in her report. “There is a history going back over 40 years of rivalry between the two schools.”
Division Street is also a gang border, and one in which McDaniel fears.
“The closing of our school sends our children into five lanes of traffic at Division and Sedgwick, where adults have been struck and killed or pushed into gang rivalry,” McDaniel said. “Some stooges not only don’t want them at their school, but want to beat them up and threaten their lives.
McDaniel said she’s “walked the walk,” and now it’s time for someone else to do the same.
“Since the mayor won’t come to us, we have come to him,” McDaniel said. “And our message is, no we won’t go and keep your hands off our schools.”