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PUSH panel: Failing schools have been ‘sabotaged’

Rev. Jesse JacksCTU President Karen Lewis spoke before School Board meeting Chicago Public Schools Headquarters 125 S. Clark where school

Rev. Jesse Jackson and CTU President Karen Lewis spoke before the School Board meeting at the Chicago Public Schools Headquarters 125 S. Clark, where the school board is considering a reform package that includes closing or overhauling 17 struggling schools. Wednesday, February 22, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 25, 2012 11:31PM

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Saturday told a crowd “it’s time to march again,” in light of the Chicago Public Schools board’s decision to close or phase out seven chronically failing schools and to turn around 10 others.

The participants in a panel discussion — which included Jackson, his son Jonathan Jackson, who is a Rainbow/PUSH spokesman, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, PUSH Education Director Janette Wilson, and Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization — argued that the schools had been set up for failure by the city and the school board. They said that CPS needs an elected, not appointed, school board, which would be more accountable to parents, teachers and the community.

Jackson, who after the decision by the CPS board said PUSH is contemplating filing federal complaints over resource disparities in the schools, told the crowd that “it’s time to march again!” He also said it was time for “litigation [and] demonstration.”

Lewis said the “vast inequities” in resources given to schools in the city amount to “sabotage” of the poor-performing schools.

She said “there is a bias [in City Hall and on the CPS board] against black and veteran teachers,” in part, at least, because of their higher salaries.

Those on the panel claimed that closures and turnarounds of poorly performing schools have not been proven to work better than the alternative of keeping the schools open and directing more resources to them. Brown, who is also a local school council member at Dyett High School, now due for phase-out, said CPS isn’t interested in research that shows “closing schools produces negative results.”

“They are intentionally destabilizing schools in our communities. Dyett has been the poster child for academic sabotage,” Brown said.

“They need to stop labeling our children as failures,” he said, noting that the children he knows who attend Dyett are intelligent and “have a light in their eyes” when it comes to their education.

“Chicago Public Schools are actively working to diminish that light and we will not stand for it,” Brown said.

Lewis also charged racial disparities in the treatment of teachers, and said long-time teachers were also under attack.

“There is a bias [in City Hall and on the CPS board] against black and veteran teachers,” in part, at least, because of their higher salaries.

The mayor’s office, she said, “has ruled the schools with fear. But fear will move to anger and anger will move to action.”

She also said that an elected school board would be more accountable than one appointed by the mayor, since if a board member voted to close a school, they’d have to explain that decision to their neighbors.

“Improve schools, don’t close schools,” the Rev. Jackson said. “Public schools are the solution, not the problem.”

A CPS spokeswoman on Saturday denied Lewis’ accusations about a bias against black and veteran teachers.

“These accusations are false. ... More white teachers were laid off than African-American,” said CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus.

CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard also issued a statement reiterating his hopes that the “status quo” in the education system will no longer be protected “at the expense of our students.”

He called last week’s board vote “a victory for our students.”

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