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CPS Board Approves 17 School Closings, Overhauls, Teachers Union Calls Vote 'Education Apartheid' (VIDEO)

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The Chicago Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday to close, phaseout or otherwise overhaul 17 Chicago Public Schools following hours of impassioned testimony urging the board to arrive at an opposite decision.

The vote was met with a chorus of boos, shouts of "Shame on you!" and "Rubber stamp!" after teachers, parents and community activists had gathered all day for the dramatic showdown at CPS headquarters, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis characterized the vote as "education apartheid," mirroring language used earlier in the day by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was present for the vote -- the first CPS school actions vote under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's tenure.

"This is a travesty and a betrayal of democracy," Lewis said of the vote in a statement. "By ignoring hundreds of hours of testimony of parents on how they never received the support they needed to strengthen their schools and increase student performance, they have created a huge gulf of ill will in our city.

"If members of the Board possess a conscience, then they ought to be ashamed," she added.

"Poverty matters. Homelessness matters. Racial equality matters. Inadequate distribution of educational resources matters," Jackson testified to the board, according to Fox Chicago.

But board member Mahalia Hines said that "while the decision I made was a tough one—you probably can hear it in my voice—it was an informed one," WBEZ reports.

Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz added that "the worst thing I felt bad about today is that we couldn’t do this for more kids," noting that he wished other underperforming schools could have been impacted by the Wednesday vote, according to WBEZ.

The approved school actions, first proposed last fall, include the closing of some schools, "phasing out" of others and the "turning around" of 10 schools, six of which will be taken over by the politically-connected charter operator Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The changes impact some 7,500 students at schools outlined by the Chicago News Cooperative.

CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard applauded the board's vote in a Wednesday statement:

We can no longer defend a status quo where nearly half of students drop out of high school and the achievement gap among African American and Latino students has climbed to high double digits. It's our responsibility to do everything we can to help students get on a path to academic success and with the Board’s support today we will do exactly that.

But many of those opposed to the turnarounds and closures still feel the plan was more about politics than helping students. Some called for members of the Chicago Board of Education to be elected, rather than appointed by the mayor, going forward.

"Please hear us," parent Carolina Gaete told ABC Chicago. "Hear the proposals we put together. Give the principal another chance. This is not about education. This is about politics."

Earlier in the week, Designs for Change released a new study [PDF] calling into question the claims that AUSL's heralded turnaround model, which essentially replaces the principal and most of the staff of schools deemed to be failing, is effective in boosting student achievement.

Protests had ramped up citywide heading into the Wednesday vote. Parents, teachers and community members marched on Monday evening to Emanuel's North Side home, protesting that they have been "silenced" in their opposition to the planned closures and overhauls. Late last week, Occupy Chicago joined protesters who staged a sit-in at Brian Piccolo Elementary School -- one of the schools slated for "turnover" at the hands of AUSL -- in the city's West Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Meanwhile, legislation in the Illinois Statehouse introduced by state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) would place a one-year moratorium on Chicago school closings and "turnarounds," the Chicago Tribune reported.

The closures will also be fought in court, as school council members at the impacted schools have filed a lawsuit aimed at keeping the board-approved actions from going through, according to WBEZ. The teachers union has already filed a civil rights lawsuit with the same aim.

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