Over 130 were arrested in Chicago as thousands of teachers, parents and students protested against a decision to close 54 public schools. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused further negotiations, apparently making the closings a done deal.
People carried banners with slogans like ‘Strong Schools, Strong Neighborhoods’ and ‘Protect Our Children,’ calling for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation.
«We’re signaling that there is going to be a large and determined movement that will use the tactics of civil disobedience and direct action in order to keep these schools open,» Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who was among those arrested, told the Guardian.
Emanuel and school chief Barbara Burd-Bennett said that schools are being closed because they are half-empty and failing academically.
At a rally before the march, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called the closings “injustices” and vowed to file lawsuits. He addressed the protesters in a speech, urging them not to give up: «On the first day of school you show up at your real school, don’t let these people take your school.»
Making a stop in front of the City Hall, the protesters chanted «Save our Schools,» and called for Emanuel’s ouster. More than 100 held a sit-in protest in the middle of the street, and continued chanting until police cleared them from the area.
“We need the mayor to invest in our schools, not take them away ,” a grandmother of two students said. “
We need our schools for the safety of our children .”
A group of Chicago ministers also went to City Hall on Wednesday to deliver a letter asking Emanuel to halt the closings. Chicago officials have claimed that the move will save the budget nearly $560 million over the next 10 years in capital costs, and an additional $43 million per year in operating costs.
Nearly 30,000 students, the majority of who range from Kindergarten to 8th grade students, will be affected by the closings.
Critics argue that the closings disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will uproot kids who need a stable and familiar learning environment. They also worry that students will have to cross gang lines to get to a new school, and that the vacated buildings will be blight on already-struggling communities.
There are also concerns that hundreds of school staffers will be left jobless.
Opponents of the plan will get another chance to argue their case at a series of public meetings to be scheduled for the coming weeks, though the Chicago Board of Education, whose members are all appointed by Emanuel, is expected to approve the closings in late May.
The closings would take effect beginning at the start of the 2013-2014 school year. Around 100 schools in Chicago have already been closed since 2001; the overwhelming majority of students affected by those closings were black.