Protesters try to derail vote on closing four Englewood high schools

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McKenzie Reagor, a junior at Hancock College Prep, speaks at a protest outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday morning. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Demonstrators on Wednesday morning called for the cancellation of a Board of Education vote — set for Wednesday afternoon — that could close several CPS schools in the Englewood neighborhood.

“The Chicago teachers union on behalf of our 25,000 members in Chicago urge the board to cancel this vote,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said outside CPS headquarters at 42 W Madison St. “And if you don’t have the guts to cancel the vote — it’s an appointed school board by the mayor — at the very least have the decency to vote no.”

Parents, community activists and students joined Sharkey to rally against 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.

McKenzie Reagor, a junior at Hancock College Prep on the Southwest Side, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to get his priorities straight.

“Closing our schools rather than providing resources is just plain irresponsible. I feel that you were letting us students down and you need to do better,” she said.

“Rahm is a person on a budget who constantly spends their money on things they don’t need.”

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 if there is community support for doing so. 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.

CPS CEO Janice 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 the four existing high schools — 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 Emanuel’s power over the city’s public schools.

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