Activists skeptical CPS will weigh their input on closings

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Chicago Public Schools plans to announce this year’s school closings on Wednesday, but surprised many last week when it disclosed the names of those schools to grassroots activists who generally oppose the strategy.

On the district’s call list were Parents United for Reform in Education, Westside Health Authority, Grand Boulevard Federation, Blocks Together and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, all groups that rail against school closings.

KOCO’s Jitu Brown told the district school closings severely disrupt learning but he doubts his input will be taken seriously. “They’re just trying to cover their bases on community input,” he contends.

 

Chicago Public Schools plans to announce this year’s school closings on Wednesday, but surprised many last week when it disclosed the names of those schools to grassroots activists who generally oppose the strategy.

On the district’s call list were Parents United for Reform in Education, Westside Health Authority, Grand Boulevard Federation, Blocks Together and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, all groups that rail against school closings.

KOCO’s Jitu Brown told the district school closings severely disrupt learning but he doubts his input will be taken seriously. “They’re just trying to cover their bases on community input,” he contends.

Julie Woestehoff, executive director for PURE, says the district asked her to keep the list under wraps until the official announcement next week—a commitment she refused to accept. Instead, Woestehoff posted the list on the organization’s website.

She says the district contacted PURE and other groups frustrated with school closings to feel out political “hot spots” like Abbott Elementary.

Last year, CPS squashed plans to close Abbott Elementary for low enrollment after a public hearing officer ruled that, among other problems, the district did not factor in a potential enrollment boom when families return to public housing at the nearby and rehabbed Wentworth Garden Housing development.

“I don’t think they want that to happen again, where there’s an obvious blunder in their choices,” Woestehoff said. (Abbott is back on the list and faces increased pressure to close because Choir Academy, which shares space with Abbott, will be closing this summer for financial reasons.)

In Austin, the Westside Health Authority is gearing up to fight the district’s plans to close Key Elementary and move its 390 students to nearby Ellington Elementary.

“We appreciate the information, however, my impression is that it wasn’t just a courtesy,” says Virgil Crawford, education organizer for Westside. He, too, suspects the district is trying to map out tricky political terrain rather than seek out genuine community input. Crawford plans to strategize with Key’s principal this week.

CPS spokesman Michael Vaughn would not confirm or discuss any schools on the list. He says the district has yet to make any final decisions on school closings.