No Community Library, No Community School:
Mr Mayor Can WE USE YOUR INTERNET!?
As Substance News has reported, (see Jim Vail’s article in the education category here or follow the Substance News link on the right) the Chicago School Board met last week and was confronted by hundreds of people protesting Board policies. Parents and students from Altgeld Gardens on Chicago’s far south side were joined by members of GEM (Grassroots Education Movement), Teachers for Social Justice, CORE (Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators), Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization and others to demand that CPS place a quality neighborhood public school in the building that houses Carver Military Academy. The Academy, a selective enrollment school, replaced a community school that at one time served the Gardens and surrounding area; but the Academy only uses 1/4 of the space in the school. What especially took the Board by surprise, was that the protesters presented the Board with a 38 page proposal for the new school. Leadership of this protest belongs to the parents and students from the Gardens; parents have been involved for 30 years in the battle against toxic waste dumping in the area, and the higher disease rates that are consequences. The new school proposed by the protesters would be called the Hazel Johnson Environmental Justice School, and would exist side-by-side with the current military academy. Many speakers in the public participation part of the program repeated their support of the proposal.
Since then, parents and their supporters have met twice with David Pickens, a leading officer from the Board of Education. The protesters had demanded a meeting with the Board in the Gardens. The Board officials typically refuse to meet away from their offices. In this case, they did meet in the Gardens, and agreed to let Cheryl Johnson chair the meeting. She is executive director of the community organization that has spearheaded the fight against the toxics (People for Community Recovery) and one of the founders of the Committee for Safe Passage (safety for the students in the schools).
Wednesday, December 30 the parents and students from Altgeld came to city hall to confront Mayor Daley with their concerns. The talks, Cheryl Johnson said, are now just talks. Parents haven’t seen action yet. Parents are not willing to accept transfers to other schools where the distance may be greater, educational services no better and the safety issue not resolved. The parents have placed an interim proposal in front of the Board until a fully functioning school can be established in the fall of 2010. They are asking for 4 or 5 classrooms to be staffed by certified, union teachers (the Board wants these to be associated with another CPS school, acting as a “satellite.”). But, as Ms. Johnson reiterated, so far this is just words without action.
Last week, after the protests opposed a charter school in the community, the School Board showed their responsiveness . . . by approving the charter school. On December 30 parents and students again emphasized their desire for a public high school in their community. They were at Mayor Daley’s office perhaps because the Mayor’s office took control of the schools over 10 years ago and now is ultimately responsible. But the occasion for coming to Mayor Richard Daley was to show him directly that students do not have a school and do not even have a public library in their community that is accessible, and consequently cannot even use public access internet to keep up on their classes during the holiday break, to do research. A number of students spoke to the issue: they are behind in their classes and afraid of flunking. And so in a spirited display, the community residents and their supporters chanted demands to use Daley’s internet access.
It is not surprising that Mayor Daley did not come out to meet the protesters Wednesday. Nor is it surprising that he didn’t let them in to use his computer. It is also not surprising the the Board is delaying action as long as it can.
This will be a difficult fight to win, but the people in the community have expressed their willingness to fight this battle. It is literally a matter of life or death. But it also raises questions about how much the School Board is willing to concede, and how will they guarantee a quality education when they have proven how adept they are at dismantling public education in the guise of “No Child Left Behind.” The significance of winning this battle, even this limited one, is that the parents are taking the leadership in taking back from private hands a space that once was public — a school which was a public school, is now a military academy and is slated for charterization next year.
Note that GEM and CORE are planning a big event January 9, an educational summit at Malcolm X College, where the focus will be on school closings and charterization. The event will take place from 10 AM to 1PM. Child care will be available, and refreshments will be on hand.