A group of parents and community activists called on Chicago Public Schools officials Monday to cancel a vote scheduled for Wednesday on permanently closing Englewood’s four high schools and replacing them with a new, $85 million school on the current campus of Robeson High School.
They cited a Chicago Sun-Times report showing key community support that CPS officials have cited in pushing the plan has come from a CPS contractor and suburban residents.
“The devil has been exposed for who he really is,” Bobbie Brown, who heads the Local School Council at Harper High School, one of the schools slated to be closed, said at a protest outside CPS headquarters downtown that also drew Chicago Teachers Union staffers. “We demand a full investigation of the corruption of the school closing in our neighborhood.”
Brown called out CPS CEO Janice Jackson for supporting the closing plan that was put forth under her predecessor, Forrest Claypool, saying, “Janice Jackson, look what Claypool left you: Holding the ball. Are you gonna dribble it, or are you gonna toss it?”
Jitu Brown, a South Side community activist, said the school system’s inspector general’s office should investigate.
“In light of the recent revelations that Chicago Public Schools purchased illegitimate community input from CPS vendors to pose as people in favor of closing Englewood schools is the latest in a long line of corrupt, disingenuous activity that calls into question the legitimacy of closing any of the schools that have been targeted by CPS,” Brown said. “And the unfortunate part is that this is not a new practice.”
He pointed to revelations in 2012 that people speaking in favor of a CPS school-closing plan then had been paid $25 apiece to show up at protests.
CPS remains under a five-year school-closing moratorium put in place after it closed 50 neighborhood schools in 2013.
Officials have said that they have the authority, though, to close schools with community support. In 2016, the Chicago Board of Education granted Austin residents’ wishes to merge three tiny high schools in a single building on the Far West Side so they could offer more courses and programs.
The support officials have pointed to in Englewood largely came from the school system’s Community Action Council there, a group led by a CPS contractor who doesn’t live in Englewood, the Sun-Times reported Sunday.
Another group that’s been outspoken in calling for the schools to be closed has been the West Englewood Coalition, incorporated last year by members of a single south suburban family.
Jackson has said the four high schools’ enrollment has fallen too far to be able to offer a quality education to the fewer than 500 students who remain.
She also is pushing to merge the high-performing, predominantly African American National Teachers Academy elementary school with racially mixed South Loop Elementary and convert NTA’s building into a new high school for the booming South Loop.
Board of Ed members are set to vote Wednesday on the NTA move and on closing Robeson, Harper, Hope and TEAM Englewood.
CPS spokesman Michael Passman pointed Monday to a newly released analysis, commissioned at a cost of $85,000, that he said “highlights the need for a new high school.”
The 69-page report, by the Maryland education research company Westat, also notes, “The mistrust of CPS leadership and the acrimony between neighborhoods must be addressed for the proposed plan to be implemented successfully.”
The teachers union, an opponent of school closings, on Monday again called for switching from an appointed to an elected school board to check Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s power over the city’s public schools.
“It’s time to end the failed education policies that Emanuel pushes by either faking community support for school closings, as he has in Englewood, or simply refusing to listen to the appeals of black school communities like NTA to save their schools,” said Jesse Sharkey, CTU’s vice president.