02/29/2012 05:50 pm ET

Chicago School Closures Have Devastated Students, Teachers Union Claims (VIDEO)

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The Chicago Teachers Union has been opposed to planned school closures and turnarounds since they were first proposed, arguing that the move would unfairly turn out teachers who have served their communities for years. At a rally against the closures, the union again slammed the school board's decision, this time focusing on the way changes will impact students.

CTU President Karen Lewis spoke at the Saturday rally and forum hosted by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, saying she's spoken to students who are devastated by the news that 10 neighborhood schools would be closed.

"These kids were crying because they're being torn from teachers they know, love and respect," Lewis said at the rally, according to a release from the CTU. "They're been uprooted from their communities. CPS never thought to send grief counselors. They've given no thought to the emotional toll on the hundreds of teachers being let go, who've been outperforming the turnarounds at a fraction of the cost."

Lewis also narrowed her focus to students over teachers in her most recent attack on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has championed the CPS changes. Lewis told NBC Chicago's Mary Ann Ahern that Emanuel told her during a private meeting "that 25 percent of the students in this city are never going to be anything, never going to amount to anything and he was never going to throw money at them."

[See video above for the full interview.]

Emanuel has denied Lewis' claims about their conversation, calling her recollections "totally false" and arguing that those purported statements don't square with the actions he's taken to reform Chicago's schools since taking office, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Emanuel pointed to the longer school day and the closure of low-performing schools as student-focused measures.

But in a press release, the teachers union called the closures a strictly political move, and said they've found students who feel the same way. The release quotes Aquila Griffin, a sophomore at Dyett High School, which will be phased out and closed according to the new CPS plan, accusing the school board of "putting politics in the school."

"They talk about a 'quality education,'" Griffin said at the Feb. 25 rally, according to the release. "They want to send Dyett students across town to Phillips. We're way ahead of them in grades and attendance. How is that better for us?"

Mayor Emanuel and CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard have maintained that the turnarounds and closures will provide students at struggling CPS schools with access to more innovative, and high-quality education.

The pair is headed to Washington, D.C. Friday for a panel discussion on schools reform at American University.