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CPS students take school-closing protest to City Hall

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Updated: April 27, 2013 6:43AM

Hoping their voices might move some in places where the pleas of their parents and teachers have failed, Chicago Public Schools students on Monday took their fight against school closings to the mayor’s office.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho! Emanuel has got to go!” the students chanted, protesting Chicago’s planned closing of 54 elementary schools.

About 25 students, led by bright and articulate teens in a newly formed student coalition, picketed and held a news conference at CPS headquarters, then marched to City Hall to demand a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Young black men my age are blamed for the violence, but you don’t look at the politics that created those conditions, students crossing gang lines as a result of school closings,” said Brian Stirgus, 17, a senior at Robeson High School and one of the group’s leaders.

At City Hall, the students didn’t get past a rope outside Emanuel’s fifth-floor office.

Trailed by media and kept at bay by police officers, they created an unusual spectacle of children raucously but respectfully calling out the mayor for a prolonged period.

Eventually, a mayoral assistant came out and the students were able to present their oversized letter of complaint.

They accused Emanuel of placing children in harm’s way, destroying neighborhoods and worsening rather than improving their educational prospects.

A CPS spokeswoman said later that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett understood the students’ frustrations.

“As a former teacher and principal, and as a mother and grandmother, CEO Byrd-Bennett knows that consolidating schools can be emotional and difficult,” Becky Carroll said. “But by doing so, we will be able to provide students a quality, 21st century education they deserve.”

The students, who plan to rally in huge numbers at Daley Plaza on Wednesday, weren’t buying it, however.

“They can say what they want about it being better for kids. We don’t believe it. We know what’s really going to happen,” said Isis Hernandez, 14, an eighth-grader at Harriet Brecher Stowe Elementary.

“We’re going to have overcrowded classrooms and schools,” she said. “Teachers already have huge classes. What makes them think they’ll be able to handle more? And security won’t be able to handle it either.”

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