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Students gather at City Hall, condemn school closings as acts of violence

More than 100 students, parents and other organizers gathered in City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to push back against the shutdown of CPS schools. | Julie Whitehair/Sun-Times

As students walked out of class across the nation to push for gun control, more than 100 students, parents and other organizers gathered in City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to push back against the shutdown of CPS schools — including four Englewood high schools — saying closing schools was also an act of violence to communities.

The press conference took place as thousands of students in the city and suburbs participated in a national walkout to show solidarity with the 17 people killed in the brutal high school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.

“What’s happening is our young people are not safe in school and our young people as well are being a victim of violence . . . by school closings here in Chicago and all across the country. So we say that is a form of violence against our young people,” organizer Jaribu Lee said.

The conference got off to a late start as organizers waited for students to be bused in. Lee, of the Journey for Justice Alliance, said some students from schools, including John Hope Academy, weren’t able to attend because they were threatened with suspension and expulsion.

Miracle Boyd, a sophomore at Hope, said instead of arming teachers with guns — a proposal President Donald Trump has supported — communities should be armed with “equity education” and quality schools.

“All students, regardless of their race or income, deserve to be protected and respected in school. We are gathered here to say that starving schools in black and brown communities, then closing our schools, is violent,” said Boyd, 16.

Boyd also said students from Paul Robeson High School had been suspended for participating in the nationwide walkout, but a CPS spokesman said that wasn’t the case and that no students were suspended at any CPS school for participating in a walkout.

Chicago’s Board of Education voted last month to close Hope, Robeson, Harper and Team Englewood high schools.

Ahead of the press conference, students gathered on the fifth floor of City Hall and chanted: “We choose public schools” and “hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go.”

Speakers advocated for an elected school board, called out the mayor and the city’s plans to build a $95 million Police Academy and committed to pushing for better education and political participation.

During the press conference, organizers led some students to the Board of Elections to register to vote. Lee said one of the movement’s goals is to register 10,000 community members to vote before the deadline for midterm elections.

Bobbie Brown, chair of Harper High School’s Local School Council, said the students aren’t just the future: “They are the now.”

“We’re not accommodating or going along with nothing because the elected officials, they work for us, we don’t work for them,” Brown said.