Lawmakers tour schools slated to close

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Congressman Bobby Rush said his colleague Danny Davis will hold a forum on school closings later in April.

Congressman Bobby Rush said his colleague Danny Davis will hold a forum on school closings later in April.

As he walked along the path from one West Side school building that is slated for closure to one that will stay open, Congressman Bobby Rush ducked into an abandoned building with its windows and doors gaping open.

Congressman Danny Davis remarked, “I bet you there are people living in there.”

“It is easy for sex offenders to snatch kids up and drag them into the building,” said Shakeena Sturgen, who has an eight-year-old and seven-year-old at Delano in West Garfield Park.

Later, after passing more vacant buildings and lots strewn with garbage and glass, Rush said: “It reminds me of a third world country, where children have to walk miles and miles for an education.”

Rush made the statement at the end of a CTU-sponsored tour intended to give politicians a sense of the schools CPS wants to close and to provide the union’s perspective. About 15 lawmakers, including state legislators and aldermen, came on the tour.  Also, several lawmakers sent their staffers.

At the end of the tour, Rush and Davis said they plan to hold a Congressional Joint Forum on CPS school closings from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. April 20 at Quinn Chapel, 2401 S. Wabash Ave.

In a written statement, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll responded by reiterating that children will go to better, higher-performing schools as the result of school actions. Welcoming schools will have air conditioning, a library and CPS will hire community members to watch over students as they travel from school to school.

CPS is proposing 54 schools be closed in the largest district shakeup ever.

The bus portion of the tour also stopped at Guggenheim School, which was closed last year. Former Guggenheim student Jasmine Murphy said she misses her school and only has about three friends at her new school. Her mother Chavell Donley said that when a child’s school closes, it sends the message to the students that they aren’t smart.

“It sticks with them,” she said. “It tells them they are not worth it.”

Politicians seemed the most struck by the walk from Delano to Melody. Under the plan, Delano will be closed and Melody and its staff will move to Delano. Another school, Goldblatt, is closer to Delano. But Goldblatt also is slated for closure.

Many of the politicians remarked how long the walk seemed and how treacherous it was, especially with the presence of drug dealers looking on. However, the distance from school to school is only 0.6 miles. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has only promised busing for students whose closing school is more than 0.8 miles from the new location. Therefore, students traveling from Melody to Delano won’t have a shuttle.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from the North Side of Chicago, said that she couldn’t help thinking about her children with their “big heavy backpacks” as she walked down the street. “I can’t imagine as a parent how I would ever let my children take this walk,” she said.

She said she wishes other lawmakers were on hand to hear from students and parents, and to witness first hand the trek that young children will be forced to make. “This tells us more than a spread sheet ever could,” she said.

But the power to close schools rests entirely in the hands of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school board. When asked what other lawmakers could do about it, Cassidy responded: “That is a good question.”