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Parents, students and teachers state their case in CPS closures

KeyannGunnell 13 student Yale Elementary School discusses about running out time after becoming emotional while reading her remarks public hearing

Keyanna Gunnell, 13, a student at Yale Elementary School discusses about running out of time after becoming emotional while reading her remarks at the public hearing, April 6, 2013 at Englewood High School. Yale Elementary School will close to Harvard Elementary School. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: May 8, 2013 7:12AM

What will happen to all the bilingual students at King Elementary if they’re sent to Jensen, which has none, one parent wondered.

And how will kids manage to walk past abandoned buildings, homeless shelters and halfway houses if King, 740 S. Campbell, closes as Chicago Public Schools plans?

Safety was a top concern Saturday at CPS hearings around the city, the last round of hearings for parents, teachers and lots of students to tell CPS representatives why their schools should not be closed.

“The walk to Jensen school is dangerous and scary,” said Jocelyn Alvarez, a King 6th-grader, one of hundreds who testified citywide.

But in Austin, folks boycotted the hearings for the consolidation of May Elementary and Armstrong Elementary into Leland Elementary.

Parents heard Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s message on March 27 — that negotiations for school closings were done and it was time to talk implementation — and decided to opt out of the process, said Dwayne Truss of the Austin Community Action Council.

“Why show up?” he said Saturday by telephone.

CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has recommended the closing of 54 schools and 61 school buildings. The board of education must approve all her recommendations in late May. Each closing school gets three hearings before the board vote, two in the community and another at CPS headquarters through May 2. At Saturday’s meetings, CPS representatives wouldn’t answer questions, telling speakers they were on site just to collect information for decision makers.

Buckingham is one of CPS’ few schools that serves all special education children, entirely from the South Side, according to its clerk, Carolyn E. McNeil. Everyone takes a bus; she and parents worry about the extra travel distance and time to the school Buckingham students would be sent to near Ashland and Roosevelt, some 16 miles away.

Nikkitoya Roberts was one of the mothers who said her special-needs son is better since he got into Buckingham.

“He’s more acclimated there than he’s been anywhere,” she said. “Those kids are going to have to start all over.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the hearings went off without problems, and that any necessary adjustments would be made Monday before hearings continue Monday evening.

At the Englewood hearing for Yale Elementary’s closing into Harvard Elementary, speakers were kept strictly to the proscribed two-minute limit.

Even Keyanna Gunnell, a 13-year-old 7th-grader, whose testimony about friends not having transportation to the new, more distant school, led her to tears.

Her crying cost her another minute. The hearing leaders were firm: Two minutes a speaker.

Afterward, a calmer Gunnell was angry. She had a paragraph left and no one else was waiting to speak, she said.

“It wasn’t fair.”

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