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Chicago school board approves closure of 2 charter schools despite emotional pleas from parents and students

Frazier Prep and Chicago Virtual are the eighth and ninth Chicago charter schools to be shut down since 2014 for poor performance.

chicago school board meeting
Students, parents, teachers and community members packed an auditorium at Curie High School for a school board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Kiya Cox is getting set to graduate 8th grade next summer after spending her whole life at the same school.

She’s built relationships with teachers — she calls her science teacher the best anyone could have — and she has great friendships with her fellow students.

So when she heard Chicago Public Schools officials were recommending closing her school, Frazier Preparatory Academy Charter, she was devastated.

“It’s kind of hard to hear about it being shut down,” Cox told Chicago’s seven-member school board Wednesday evening at its monthly meeting.

Cox was one of almost 20 speakers who emotionally pleaded with the board to keep Frazier open with dozens more standing and applauding after nearly every speaker. The meeting was held at Curie High School on the Southwest Side, the first board meeting in the evening in a neighborhood since 2015.

Despite the pleas, the board approved closing Frazier by a vote of six to one and unanimously voted to close Chicago Virtual Charter School. CPS officials cited poor school ratings even after being placed on probation as a reason for shutting them down. The two schools are the eighth and ninth CPS charters since 2014 to close for low performance. Disappointed families filed out of the auditorium after the vote.

“I’ve had a lot of teachers help me get through hard things that I couldn’t get through at all,” Cox said. “My mind is just going everywhere. It feels like I have no say in anything about my school being shut down.

“High schools will look at me, a student coming from a shutdown school. When they see that, what will they think? Shutting down the school is basically packing up my childhood and throwing it in the dumpster.”

Frazier serves 250 students, almost all of them black and from low-income families, and sits in Lawndale on the Southwest Side, a neighborhood that has seen several painful school closures over the years. Chicago Virtual is an online program that serves about 500 K-12 students.

Despite voting to shut them down, almost every board member took turns thanking the students and parents who showed up to try to save their school.

“Your testimony was very powerful to me,” said board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland. “There is nothing wrong with your children, and there is nothing wrong with you as parents that you find yourself in this position today.”

Todd-Breland chided the charter industry, saying the system is set up to trap parents and students by pushing families toward charters before abandoning them when they’re facing closure. “You are caught in a system that is bigger than yourself,” she said.

Most board members urged CPS officials to work with families to find good alternatives after the schools close.

Antonio Gross, a Frazier student, told the board that “it is not a good feeling to know that your school is about to get shut down.”

“Please don’t shut our school down,” Gross said.

Cloronda Morgan sent her sons to Frazier, and she now works there as a security guard. She said Frazier “saved my life” when she sent her kids there 15 years ago when she was in a “really bad domestic relationship” and needed to find a safe place to go to school, away from the troubled home life.

She said she’s now indebted to the school and works there because it gave her family so much.

“I get up every day and go to work just for those children,” Morgan said. “I lost family members, I lost my soul, and those children saved me.

”Frazier saved me, and it’s my goal to save them,” she said. “A broke crayon can still color. We can still color. Just please don’t close us.”

Eric White, a gym teacher and the athletic director at Frazier, told the board it shouldn’t “solve problems, especially money problems, by balancing budgets on the backs of children.”

“These hearings seem to be built just so people can feel like they tried when the decisions have already kind of been made,” White said. “But we have to start to understand that the people that are hurt in this are not the adults working in the building because we can find new jobs.

“These kids need someplace to go. And in North Lawndale, they walk past closed schools all day. Don’t close another one.”