The Chicago City Council is intervening in a long-running standoff between schools and parents at Pilsen's Whittier Elementary.
An order unanimously approved by the Council is demanding that the Chicago Public Schools turn on the heat at Whittier's field house, which parents have been occupying since September 15 to prevent its demolition.
On Monday, the sit-in took a decidedly icy turn when CPS asked People's Gas to shut off the gas to the field house. Protesters -- including pregnant women and children -- brought in electric heaters to stay warm in the 40-degree night.
That decision attracted the attention of two powerful aldermen, who took the matter before the full Council. The Chicago Sun-Times reprints the reaction of Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke:
"This is a matter of health and welfare. They're bringing electric heaters into the building so these moms and kids who are sleeping there can have some heat overnight," Burke said.
Calling the shutoff "cruel and short-sighted," Burke said, "I don't know what genius at the Board of Education made this decision.''
And according to the Chicago Tribune, Danny Solis, who chairs the Zoning Committee and represents the 25th Ward (where Whittier Elementary sits), was no less blunt:
"In the meantime, the board of education cannot make a very dumb mistake, in my (opinion), of turning off the gas, because the issue of safety comes up again," said Solis, 25th.
On Wednesday, the two men sponsored an order telling CPS to postpone demolition of the field house pending a legislative task force's recommendations, and to turn the heat back on immediately.
According to the Sun-Times, the heat was still off as of Wednesday night.
Deeming the building unsafe, CPS had planned to level the field house at Whittier and replace it with a soccer field. But parents saw the building as the only possible location for their children to have a library at school. Since they occupied the building, protesters have received over 1,000 donated books, and now run an unsanctioned library out of the field house five days a week.
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