Chicago school activists get trained in civil disobedience tactics

Chicago teachers on strike last fall.  (By John Gress/Reuters)

Chicago Public Schools officials are considering closing as many as 129 public schools said to be under-enrolled — and activists are gearing up for a fight.

The Chicago Teachers Union is co-sponsoring “Citywide Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Trainings” to teach parents, teachers and others  protest techniques, including disruptions, occupations and arrests, according to a union press release. The trainings, the release said, are going to be led by political activist and scholar Lisa Fithian, who for decades has been a student, labor and community organizer on a range of issues. Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey will participate in one of the training sessions, which is also being sponsored by the Grassroots Education Movement, a group of community-based organizations from across the city.

Over the last decade some 70 cities have closed public schools, some because they are under-enrolled and others because they are said to be academically failing and more mass closings are on the way. Washington, D.C. officials are planning to close 15 schools, and New York City, which closed more than 140 schools since 2002, recently announced plans to shut 17 more beginning next year.

Last week, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to close down 23 — down from an original list of nearly 40 — and protesters, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, got arrested at the meeting where the decision was made.

Chicago officials are expected to release a list of schools that will be closed at the end of this month, according to the Chicago Tribune. The vast majority of the 129 schools that could be targeted have African-American student populations. The newspaper reported that Chicago Public Schools has released a security plan to ensure that students who are sent to new schools as a result of the closings will have extra security on their way to school and inside their new campuses.

Chicago, which has the country’s third largest public school system, was the site of a major strike last September by teachers fighting a contract they said was unfair, and tensions between the union and school officials remains charged. An anti-school closings march and rally will be held on March 27th in downtown Chicago.

Research suggests that school closings may hinder, and rarely help, students’ academic progress, even when so-called failing schools are closed, and cost savings are often not as great as expected. In fact, when Michelle Rhee closed 23 public schools in 2008, she said the school system would save money but a city audit concluded it actually cost $40 million.

Chicago school activists get trained in civil disobedience tactics.

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