The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close fifty Chicago Public schools, one of them delayed a year, in the nation's third-largest district making it the largest single wave of planned public school closures in U.S. history.
After the vote, few schools were spared from the list of 54 schools originally proposed for closure.
A handful of schools -- Leif Ericson, Marcus Garvey, George Manierre and Mahalia Jackson -- got an eleventh-hour reprieve ahead of the vote after CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett withdrew her recommendations to close the four schools, while delaying the closure of one school -- Canter Leadership Academy -- for one year and tabling the turnaround of one other school -- Clara Barton Elementary, the Tribune reports.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis blasted the district's actions in a statement following the vote, saying Wednesday was "a day of mourning for the children Chicago."
"Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children," Lewis said. "Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy."
Vowing the union's movement would go on, Lewis said the CPS board, CEO and the mayor were on the wrong side of history.
"History will judge them for the tragedy they have inflicted upon our students; and it will not be kind," Lewis said.
Ahead of the closing vote, Byrd-Bennett said, "Like it or not, the system does have to change," ABC Chicago reports. Borrowing a favorite refrain from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she emphasized, "We can no longer embrace status quo because the status quo is not working for all of Chicago's children."
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The district and Emanuel had put up a unified front in support of the closings since the plan was first announced. City Hall and CPS argued the sweeping closures are necessary if the district is to close a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall and address what it's deemed an "utilization crisis" at its school buildings.
In the final hours leading up to the Wednesday vote, protesters continued marching outside the CPS headquarters Wednesday morning, with several protesters being removed after attempting a sit-in, WGN reported:
Several community members complained of access being limited to the meeting despite ample room, according to WBEZ:
Along with school closing protesters, several Chicago aldermen whose wards would be hit hard by the closures weighed in during the public comments portion of the meeting, according to the Sun-Times.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) spoke with particular passion about the closings, calling for a moratorium on the closings and expressed concerns about increased violence as a consequence of the plan. He was met with a standing ovation by groups opposed to the closings.
Many parents also spoke with deep emotion about the closings, particularly the impact they will have on special-needs students (embedded below) and one community organizer was ushered out of the room by security when she called the board "illegitimate," DNAinfo reports. At the Illinois state capitol in Springfield, eight protesters demonstrated against the closings by blocking the entrance to the House floor. They were escorted from the building.
The CTU, which had called for a moratorium on all school closures for the following year, has two lawsuits pending against the district stemming from the closures.
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