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A ‘generation of school closings’ offers lessons on a better way to combat violence

We can begin by embracing the research on lower class size, the “counselors not cops” movement and a social justice curriculum in every school.

As dozens of schools were closed in Chicago, including many on the South Side, relationships between schools and families built over decades have been severed, writes a Sun-Times reader.
Sun-Times Media

Diligent work is being done in many critical areas to address Chicago’s alarming epidemic of violence, including programs such as the one former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan is promoting.

However, the most effective remediation strategies generally require taking a hard look at all possible underlying causes of the problem, and so far little attention has been paid to the devastating impact on children, families and communities of the mass school closings carried out by Duncan and others between 2002-2017.

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From the beginning, parents, students and community organizations raised an alarm about the many potential negative effects of Mayor Richard Daley’s so-called “Renaissance 2010” program, a plan to close and replace 100 schools with supposedly better charter and other privately-run schools. Our protests continued as affected schools and neighborhoods became increasingly dangerous with little academic improvement.

In part as a result of these school closings, relationships between schools and families built over decades have been severed. Neighborhoods were stripped of what was often the only center of community life. Much of the glue holding the city together has dissolved. Unsurprisingly, hardest hit have been the communities of color on the West and South sides of the city, those areas experiencing today’s greatest number of violent incidents. Tens of thousands of children have fallen through the cracks. Just ask the shooters how many schools they attended before they gave up.

With nearly all of our public schools now shuttered due to COVID-19, student mental health, family well-being and community capacity are even more precarious. We would do well to look to lessons learned from that full generation of Chicago Public School closings for some strategies to address the schools we need going forward, especially when it comes to the great potential of strong schools to lower violence.

We can begin by embracing the research on lower class size, the “counselors not cops” movement and a social justice curriculum to address the wounds of trauma, loss, and inequity.

Cities can vastly improve safety with public schools that are well-supported and stable. Chicago can make this happen.

Julie Woestehoff
Retire executive director
Parents United for Responsible Education
Parents Across America

A better way of policing

Arne Duncan’s commentary in the Sept. 24 Sun-Times provides a pathway to reduced crime and violence in Chicago. I am not for defunding the police and neither is Duncan, but providing more resources for programs like READI Chicago and Chicago CRED is compelling. The results in the Roseland community tell the story. Chicago homicides are up 50% citywide, but down 33% in Roseland. Non-fatal shootings are up 50% in the city, but up only 3% in Roseland where CRED has been active.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the City Council should hold hearings on these initiatives and find ways to expand them on the South and West sides of Chicago.

Peter Bensinger
Former Administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Former Chair, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority

We’ve been warned

When Trump says the election is a hoax, we’ve been warned.

When Trump says he’ll be the victim of massive voter fraud, we’ve been warned.

When Trump says we should ignore the ballots, we’ve been warned.

When Trump says he needs the ninth Supreme Court justice to prevent his defeat, we’ve been warned.

When Trump says there will be no transition to a new administration, we’ve been warned.

Bette Davis presaged the 2020 election 70 years ago in the movie “All About Eve” — “Fasten your seat belts, we’re in for a bumpy ride.”

Walt Zlotow, Glen Ellyn

Words that can incite

I was disappointed to read Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s comments regarding the Jefferson County County grand jury’s decision in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Their words were inciteful. Since the police officers involved were following orders from higher ups, while the outcome was indeed awful, they were just doing their jobs. Thankfully, no-knock warrants now are banned. But for people in the positions of Pritzker and Lightfoot to use such inflammatory words just fuels violent protests.

Janet Lumm, Schaumburg