The Chicago Teachers Union said Monday that the Chicago Public Schools’ plans to close schools including all of Englewood’s open-enrollment high schools and the top-rated elementary school in the South Loop would violate CPS’ contract with teachers.
“Our union built protections from arbitrary and unwarranted school closings into our contract,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the union, which filed a grievance Friday to try to block the school closings.
Sharkey called on newly elevated CPS CEO Janice Jackson, who backs the Englewood plan, to stop closing schools and “do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient for the mayor.”
Sharkey’s comments at a City Hall news conference came as CPS begins the formal process this week to shut down the schools that it has slated for closing.
The teachers’ contract — which was reached minutes before a 2016 strike deadline — allows closing schools only “where the school cannot satisfy graduation requirements for students” and only after the Chicago Board of Education holds public meetings to address under-enrollment.
Sharkey said the four Englewood high schools CPS wants to close — Harper, Hope, TEAM Englewood and Robeson — all still meet the graduation standards for their dwindling numbers of students.
Aside from the four high schools, CPS also is planning to close a top-rated elementary school in the South Loop, keep seventh- and eighth-graders at their North Side grade schools instead of going to Roosevelt High School and open a charter school with ties to a clouted megachurch and the rapper Common in the building occupied by Hirsch High School.
On Monday, CPS also released proposed boundaries for the high school that would take over National Teachers Academy’s building beginning in 2019, guaranteeing seats for students from six area grade schools and adding a preference for kids at three more . Late last week, it unveiled renderings of the $85 million high school Englewood high school building that’s set to open in 2019 to ninth-graders — meaning it would not serve any of the students being displaced.
Public hearings on the moves, beginning Tuesday night, wrap up Jan. 31 in anticipation of a school board vote next month.
State law requires two community meetings and a public hearing at CPS headquarters for each of the closings or “co-locations” that school officials are seeking.
In an interview last week in her office, Jackson said she won’t enact “sweeping closings” like the 2013 round that shuttered 50 schools at once, but will consider need neighborhood by neighborhood as enrollment continues to drop.
“It’s going to be unique community by community, but people should not expect widespread closings, that’s not my approach. I want to go neighborhood by neighborhood,” she said. “We have to infuse something new that attracts people back to their schools.”
Jackson continued, “There are communities where the district has an interest in that school being successful. Hirsch would be a perfect example. We want that neighborhood high school open, that community needs a neighborhood high school.”
In 2013, CPS closed a record 50 neighborhood elementary schools, and officials promised not to close any more for five years. But officials have since found ways to go ahead with some school closings, citing low enrollment. Overall the district has about 32,000 fewer students than in 2013. And CPS officials have said the proposed closings were sought by “the community.”
The proposed move on NTA has prompted fierce opposition from teachers and parents, who have argued that their school — which serves largely low-income, African-American students — is being sacrificed for the benefit of wealthier families in the increasingly gentrified South Loop.