Race ‘elephant in the room’ with Lincoln overcrowding

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Parents from Lincoln Elementary reacted at Wednesday’s board meeting to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial plan to build an $18 million addition to the school, with some expressing elation while others pointed out a less expensive solution: redrawing attendance boundaries so some Lincoln students would be sent to other nearby schools, Alcott or Mayer.

But nothing was said about Manierre, a school just 1.3 miles away and more underutilized than any of the other neighborhood schools. In fact, as the district planned the closings, officials considered using Manierre–or at least its building, emptied of its students–to solve overcrowding in Lincoln Park.

Manierre, a predominantly black school, was initially placed on the list of schools to be shut down, but was taken off after intense community objection–in large part because of the plan to send Manierre’s students to Jenner, the only other school in the area that is predominantly African American and has the lowest academic rating. Several of the other nearby schools had space, are racially diverse and have the district’s highest rating.

Documents submitted by CPS to lawyers in discovery for one of the federal lawsuits challenging the school closings states that the action to be taken in Lincoln Park was to “reduce underutilization and possibly leverage the empty Manierre building in the future.”  

Asked in a deposition for the lawsuit why CPS officials didn’t consider redrawing attendance boundaries so some students in overcrowded schools would be sent to Manierre, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said “a reason why not is because it is highly disruptive to relocate people from their existing school to another school.”

The attorney then points out that most of the students in closing schools were black and asks Cawley whether CPS officials were more concerned about disruption involving white students.  Cawley says that is “patently false.”

Later, in talking specifically about why Lincoln students were not moved into Manierre, Cawley said that would be difficult, considering families move into the neighborhood specifically to attend Lincoln.

 “We’d be going into a neighborhood and saying we’re sorry, you moved into this neighborhood to go to this school,” according to the deposition transcript. “You can’t go to this school anymore. So that’s a difficult thing.”

Asked about sending displaced Manierre students to some of the higher-performing, racially diverse nearby schools, Cawley said that Jenner has a “terrific facility that had a lot of room for Manierre kids.” 

Sherise McDaniels, who fought to keep Manierre open, says she saw the announcement to spend $18 million on an addition for Lincoln Elementary as a “slap in the face.” 

“It is a disrespect to teachers and parents at Manierre,” she said. “It is a sign that we don’t matter and that this is a segregated city and there are people who are working to keep it that way.”

McDaniels said she and other parents were aware of the documents that outlined plans to “ship out” Manierre students and use the building to expand Lincoln. Realizing the racial dynamics and desperate not to have their children go to Jenner, where they felt their children would not be safe, she said parents proposed giving Lincoln half of their building. 

“We would use one door and they could use the other door,” she says. 

Some of the parents who oppose the addition to Lincoln are upfront about the situation with Manierre. Lincoln parent Caroline Vickrey pointed out that CPS officials suggested once before that attendance boundaries be redrawn to send some of their students to LaSalle, a high-performing, diverse magnet school. 

Imagine the outcry if CPS suggested Manierre as it currently is, she wrote in an e-mail. 

“The black/white issue with Manierre is the elephant in the room,” Vickrey said.  Manierre “struggles academically, to be fair, unlike all other schools around Lincoln, which are either magnet Level I or underutilized Level I neighborhood schools. Incredibly sad, but true.” 

Another parent said the sticking point was property values, which she said would plummet should the attendance boundaries be redrawn to send some of the Lincoln students to Manierre.

Vickrey and other parents who oppose the addition also note that other CPS schools are more overcrowded than Lincoln. Last year’s list puts Lincoln at No. 53 out of 65 overcrowded schools (not including charter schools). 

CPS officials said an adjusted list that takes into account all leased space that overcrowded schools are using puts Lincoln at No. 15 among 33 schools.