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Students, parents, teachers at NW Side school call for unity

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union join teachers, students, parents and community members at Boone Elementary School for a national day of action to stand together for unity on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

With paper hearts dangling around their necks and holding hands, parents, teachers and students stood outside Boone Elementary on the Northwest Side Thursday morning, hoping to send a message of “unity” to President-elect Donald Trump.

In truth, that was only part of the message. Many at the school — one of the most diverse in the city — say they’re concerned about what a Trump administration might do in light of some of his campaign remarks about immigration and because of his pick, school-choice proponent Betsy DeVos, for secretary of education.

“Betsy DeVos is completely inappropriate for education secretary,” said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “This is a person who never really had her children attend public schools, has been an opponent of public schools very consistently, doesn’t believe in the mission of public education.”

As Sharkey spoke, parents, teachers and students linked hands in a kind of human chain in front of the school.

The teachers union and the Alliance to Reclaim our Schools were taking part in a national day of action aimed at showing Trump a united front on protecting all students, schools and communities, and demonstrating opposition to DeVos. The CTU organized walk-ins at many city schools to oppose cuts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.

Boone’s student population is about 45 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African-American and 25 percent Asian. The school has welcomed students from almost every corner of the globe, said Boone’s Local School Council chair Toby Manewith.

“Today is a day to send a message that we care for all of our students, and that all of our students always have a safe and welcoming place here,” Manewith said. “We welcome 20 refugees every year — at least.”

Parent Renee Bell Werge, who has kids in second and fifth grades, put her concern this way: “We’re in a world that needs to know a little bit more love, and I want this community to know that this school is inclusive and diverse. And that’s why I put my kids here.”