The first of three meetings to collect feedback Wednesday evening on the proposed closures of Englewood’s remaining neighborhood high schools quickly devolved into a rowdy screaming match where police had to step in.
CPS wants to shut down Harper, Hope, Robeson and TEAM Englewood high schools in June, and replace them with a brand new building on Robeson’s campus that will open to 9th graders a full school year later.
District officials called the plan a “consolidation” as they presented it during a two-hour community meeting at Kennedy-King College, saying the four high schools’ enrollments were too perilously low to offer a quality high school experience for any of their students. Citing support from Englewood community members, they’ve estimated the costs of the new building and transition plans for displaced students who won’t get to attend the new school at $85 million.
Dozens of parents, students and residents lined up, as they typically do at such hearings, to beg Board of Education members to spare their schools when they consider these and other closures as early as next month.
“Y’all shouldn’t be closing down our schools,” Harper senior Ashley Rodriguez said. “Y’all have $85 million to put into our school, y’all should be putting more academics into our schools … I’m a prime example. I came into Harper with all F’s. Harper has me on the right track to graduate this year.”
But soon after, the testimony turned chaotic. Several speakers got booed for not being from Englewood.
A large faction wearing matching West Englewood Coalition hats and sweatshirts said they back the closures and the new school, and shouted down opponents. One urged opponents to consider the opportunities the new school would provide, hollering, “Your kids deserve better … Give your kids a chance.”
Keith Harris, one of the audience members wearing Englewood Political Task Force hats, resigned in protest from the new school’s steering committee, calling the process “disingenuous.”
The proceedings had to be halted several times while CPS security and police milling around the auditorium stepped in to separate people yelling at each other. Accusations flew that protesters supporting the closures had been paid — as some had been during a past round of school closings —though several members of the West Englewood group said no one had paid them.
That included Keith Royster, who said the group “is all about the kids.”
But Andre Smith told officials the money set aside for social-emotional support for affected students indicates “there’s going to be some issues” with the plan.
“How in the hell can you protect our children,” he wondered over the noise, “when you can’t even control this crowd?”
Chicago police said Wednesday night that no one was arrested.
Contributing: Tom Schuba