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Brown: Don’t be fooled by the shrugs at one South Side school, closing process needs to slow down

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Updated: March 19, 2013 12:15PM

When a school is slated for closing, you expect the parents to be upset.

If nothing else, they know it’s going to be a disruption for them and their children.

But I heard surprisingly little of that Wednesday afternoon as I stood outside Crispus Attucks Elementary, 51st and State, to brace parents with the news that their school had made the list of 129 Chicago Public Schools still under consideration to be closed next year.

“Close it,” said the first woman I approached as she left the building with a child in tow, refusing to stop and explain her thinking. “I ain’t got time right now,” she said.

“I don’t care. I don’t like the school,” said the next parent, Lolita Buckins, who has three children at Attucks. “They don’t have everything together at this school. They suspend the kids for any little thing.”

It wasn’t until I stopped Marqueeta Peters, mother of a second grader boy, that I heard a note of concern, and even she wasn’t entirely heartsick at the prospect.

“It’s going to make it hard for the teachers and the students,” said Peters, who moved her son here from another school in September. “I moved him from over east, and his grades have improved here. Here they got a little more privilege. They let him get on a computer. They have soccer. They have music. They have all that.”

And if Attucks closes?

“I’ll have to find another school,” she said, making it sound like one of those things you learn to expect as a CPS parent.

In some parts of the city, parents simply would not tolerate their children being moved around this way, but in this neighborhood, I guess they’re more accustomed to rolling with life’s punches.

Attucks is just across from what used to be Robert Taylor Homes. The high-rises are gone and with them most of the kids who used to attend the school.

As a result Attucks is under-utilized, according to CPS, with an enrollment of 273 students and capacity for twice that. The school is on academic probation with less than half of students meeting state standards.

Some of the students at Attucks used to attend Raymond school before it was closed, said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose office is just across the street.

Then CPS moved Attucks from its prior location a mile up the street into what was the John Farren Elementary School building (built in 1960), which actually is the facility that it now is proposing to shutter. In other words, it could be the third forced school change for some of these families.

“Now you’re going to destabilize these children again. It’s not right,” Dowell said.

Of the 129 schools to make the list, twelve schools — or nearly one in 10 — are located in her 3rd Ward.

Given the population loss in this area because of razing CHA buildings, Dowell understands there’s going to be a need for some school closings. But she’s upset at the way CPS is going about it.

“My concern is how it’s done, that it’s rational,” Dowell said. “Just shuffling children around from one mediocre school to another mediocre school is not acceptable. I think this is moving way too fast.”

“You just can’t go by the numbers,” the alderman said. “You have to look at it from the children’s perspective. Where do they come from? Where do they live?”

In the case of Attucks school, there is a special issue to be taken into consideration, one teacher told me: a large percentage of its students are from homeless families, moving around from relative to relative or staying in shelters.

Further disrupting their lives would be a disgrace, the teacher argued, a notion that I would probably second if I knew a little more about it. But the principal at Attucks wasn’t inclined to be interviewed Wednesday without approval from headquarters.

As far as being “under-utilized,” every room in the building is being used for something, the teacher said. That includes a room devoted to a program for the homeless.

CPS officials promise to further trim their closing list before a final list is proposed in late March, but they aren’t saying by how much.

Dowell believes school closings should be held to no more than 20 citywide, which would be disruptive enough.

Maybe CPS can get away with this at a school like Attucks, but somebody needs to slow this process down.

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