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Bronzeville parents says school closings violate kids’ civil rights

Parent Rev. KristAlst(left) Jitu Brown Kenwood OaklCommunity Organizatispoke out about continued violence against displaced former Price students National Teacher’s Academy

Parent Rev. Krista Alston (left) and Jitu Brown of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization spoke out about continued violence against displaced former Price students at National Teacher’s Academy, 55 W. Cermak ave. The group spoke outside Price Middle School, 4357 S. Drexel and then drove to National Teacher's Academy where the kids have been transferred. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 23, 2013 6:28AM



As Chicago’s top cop promises to keep children sent to new schools safe, a Bronzeville community group on Thursday called school closings not only dangerous but a violation of children’s civil rights.

Members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and of local school councils, who’ve filed Title VI civil rights complaints about previous school closures with the U.S. Justice Department, said that last year’s displacement of Price Elementary School students has resulted in numerous problems, including attacks on former Price kids around their new school.

The parents are calling for a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and with Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett. They want a neighborhood school in Bronzeville.

“We are here today to declare that school closings and displacing children primarily black and brown children is a civil rights issue,” said the Rev. Krista Alston, whose son attended Price until it closed. “It is a civil rights issue when children are denied the right to a quality education in their own neighborhood where they live.”

Rather than send her son to the National Teachers Academy, 22 blocks away at 55 W. Cermak, she opted to homeschool him, she said Thursday morning outside Price, 4357 S. Drexel.

Now the Price building is used for weekend church services, as a training ground for a mentoring and tutoring organization and by the Chicago Police Department for K-9 training of dogs who provide school security, a district spokeswoman confirmed.

“The dogs are more important than educating our children?” Alston asked.

Bronzeville has seen 22 school actions — such as closures and consolidations — since 2002.

“CPS has done harm in Bronzeville,” said Falandra Amick, whose daughter attends Reavis Elementary School, one of 129 schools CPS has targeted for potential closure come June.

“We should not have to go to sham hearingsto beg for our schools with people we do not know,” Amick said.

The Kenwood Oakland organization has been fighting school closings for years, championing a plan called Bronzeville Global Achievers Village that would organize a network of neighborhood schools in the community under partnerships with universities and area nonprofits. The organization points out that 88 percent of the children affected by major changes to schools are African-American in a district that’s 42 percent black. Its members testified at a Department of Education Hearing on Civil Rights on Jan. 29 in Washington, D.C.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said last week that Chicago Police will guarantee safe passage for children who are sent to new schools.

On Monday, there was a scuffle outside the National Teachers Academy as children were heading to their bus stop — the third such incident since school started — according to Jitu Brown, an organizer for the Kenwood Oakwood group. A young man needed medical attention after Monday’s fight, he said. Chicago Police could not confirm that there had been three attacks. Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management would not provide information about 911 calls without a Freedom of Information request.

The National Teachers Academy is about 4 miles from Price, much too far to walk, the Bronzeville parents complain. CPS provided buses to transport the elementary age children between the academy and King College Prep High School, which is next to the old Price building.

“That’s the only school where that has happened,” Marielle Sainvilus said, referring to the distance. “NTA was almost empty too, and it was a [high performing] Level 1 school, too.”

In an emailed statement, CPS called the transition for students sent to the academy “safe and seamless,” and said “parents have expressed their satisfaction with the outstanding supports that have been implemented at the school.”

Academy Principal Isaac Castelaz said Monday’s incident was still under investigation by police and the district.

“I will say what happened was not a result of tensions within the school building, but things that are happening outside the school,” he said. The school has tried to welcome the 70 or so Price children who made the move with activities and extra support, but the transition will take time, he said.

“It is a new neighborhood,” Castelaz said. “And joining a new community has its challenges. But I think that for us to do right by our kids, it means we have to work extra hard to build that sense of community.”



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