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Rahm Emanuel pleads with parents: Don’t boycott school Wednesday

Updated: September 29, 2013 6:46AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued an impassioned plea Tuesday to parents upset about school closings and budget cuts: Don’t protest by keeping your kids home from school.

“You have a disagreement [about school closings]? The court has spoken to that. You don’t like something? There’s another way to speak of it. Do not take the kids out of school and harm them and their future,” Emanuel said.

“When I say all of us have a responsibility so our children can live up to their potential, I mean all of us. If you have a political disagreement, deal with it in a political way. Do not use the kids that way. They don’t have a day to waste when it comes to their education.”

Community activists from across the city have called for a boycott of Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

They’re calling nearly 50 school closings concentrated in predominantly black South and West Side neighborhoods a local civil-rights issue made worse by devastating school budget cuts.

The boycott is part of a national effort by community groups in 25 cities to protest similar school closings and budget cuts.

On the eve of a Chicago boycott he hopes will fizzle, Emanuel made his case directly to parents: Don’t punish your children to make a political point to the mayor.

“I don’t think we have a day, I don’t think we have a minute, I don’t think we have a year to waste when it comes to the education of our children,” the mayor said.

“And I do not think it’s appropriate to advocate that children stay out of school. If you want to make a statement, go to the courtroom. Don’t take it to the classroom. Children belong in school. They belong there learning their reading, their writing, their math, their colors — whatever it is.”

The mayor said he walked to school with two kids on Tuesday and another student on Monday who were bubbling over with “enthusiasm and an excitement” about the new school year.

For parents to put out that fire for learning out by yanking their kids out of school would be a shame, he said, especially after, what he called “one of the best-ever” opening day attendance records in CPS history.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that 213 people were wounded by gunfire and 49 others were murdered during the last school year within one block of 53 Safe Passage Routes used by students displaced by Emanuel’s school closings.

Of those shootings, more than 20 percent happened between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. when CPS students could be traveling to and from schools. Six of the 49 murders or 12 percent took place during the school day.

Emanuel sloughed off the Sun-Times analysis, pointing to the 24 percent drop in Chicago homicides over the same period last year and the 15 percent drop in overall crime.

“I believe our schools are very safe and I believe our routes will continue to be safe. We’re gonna work on it every day,” he said.

“It means nothing when you call three parents, as I have in the last couple days, to console them. So, I’m proud of the progress. But, every day, 24/7, seven days-a-week, 52 weeks out of the year, 365 days out of the year, you work on this — whether it’s a Safe Passage route, whether it’s during school hours or in the wee hours of the morning.”

On Monday, a cast of thousands of police officers, firefighters, and other government employees with a police helicopter hovering overhead lined the streets of the Safe Passage routes to help reassure children and their parents.

The mayor was asked whether the cash-strapped city can afford to sustain that herculean effort.

“Yeah — and we will,” he said.


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