Three days of Chicago Teachers Union-led marches in protest of the Chicago Public School district's plan to close 54 schools ended with a rush hour rally in Daley Plaza Monday evening.
Though smaller in scale than the March rally in Daley Plaza, Monday's gathering was no less emotional as protesters shouted chants blasting the district, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
(See photos of the May 20 protest below.)
The CTU said 26 people were arrested after calling for a moratorium on school closings and blocking elevators in City Hall; Chicago police officials said the people were issued citations and later released, the Tribune reports.
School closing protesters marched around City Hall for more than an hour — many of them students whom the district tried to dissuade from attending.
"I came [to the rally] because CPS specifically asked us not to," Montre Caref, a 15-year-old Westinghouse College Prep student told HuffPost Chicago. Caref's former school, Mayo Elementary in Bronzeville, is on the list of proposed closings.
David Torres from Uplift Community High School told HuffPost he learned of the protest in class. "Our school is associated with social justice," the 17-year-old said. "That's why we're here."
Jones College Prep sophomore Ross Floyd said he researched the school closings on CTU's website and began handing out sign-up sheets to other Jones students. The 17-year-old president of the school's social justice club told HuffPost, "We have to stand united. When we're divided we'll get stepped on. We have to think of it as 'What if this were Jones?' What if Jones were getting shut down? We'd hope other kids would come out for us."
Overheard from a huddle of student protesters from Jones College Prep: "We have to get Rahm out of power. We have to elect someone else."
The mayor declared the argument over school closures finished after the list was released in March. Though the mayoral-appointed school board is set to vote Wednesday on the final list of closures, one source told the Tribune the board had all but already decided it would likely save fewer than five schools among the list of 54.
"It's a few," Henry Bienen told the Tribune. Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University, was among the six board members who was willing to go on the record. "I don't think it's a large number of schools."
School officials released new plans late Monday providing more details on the district's plans to address safety and the accommodations of special-needs students at nine of the closing schools, the Sun-Times reports.
Morgan Elementary parent Cassandra Parks was still unsatisfied with the district's plan. Parks, who has two children and a grand-niece who attend Morgan, said the students will have a seven-block walk to Ryder Elementary, their welcoming school.
"They'll have to pass abandoned buildings, lots of trash, sex offenders," the Auburn Gresham resident said. "There are also lots of special-needs kids at Morgan, and there are no elevators at the welcoming school for our kids. Morgan has elevators."
Independent hearing officers had blasted several of the district's proposals for not going far enough to address safety for displaced students, though CPS has largely dismissed the officers' recommendations.
The Tribune says school board members have each visited roughly 10 of the closing schools to assess the community concerns, though WBEZ reports CPS has been limiting the public's and the media's access to the endangered schools. CPS even reportedly threatened to sever ties with Northwestern's Medill school after a journalism student tried to gain access to a school without CPS approval.
Parks' 11-year-old son Dasani Martinez is a fifth grader at Morgan. "I feel like CPS is picking on us," Marinez told HuffPost. "I think they're just telling fairy tales; my school is great."
The district and Mayor Emanuel have put up a unified front in support of the closings, arguing they're necessary if the district is to close a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall and address what it's deemed an "utilization crisis" at its school buildings.