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Chicago Asks for More Time on School Closings; Protesters Arrested

Guest blog post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki @jzubrzycki

And now, an update on non-weather-related school closings...

In Chicago, ten protesters were arrested last Friday after they and close to 200 others gathered outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to protest school closings, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The protest came hours after the 404,000-student district requested an extension on its timeline for announcing school actions.

Byrd-Bennett_Blog.jpgThe Chicago school district was required by a state law to determine which schools would close by December 1—less than a month from now. But on Friday, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asked to delay the decision until March 31, in order to "launch a rigorous, transparent and open dialogue with school communities over the next several months to help the District make more informed decisions around school actions and better invest resources..." Byrd-Bennett became CEO last month after months of speculation that former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was on his way out. An editorial in the Sun-Times applauded Byrd-Bennett for seeking the extension, saying it turned the district's former approach to closings—announce first, work with the community later—on its head.

The Chicago's Teachers Union is not as supportive. The CTU voted late last week to seek a moratorium on school closings. From Catalyst-Chicago:

Chicago Public Schools released on Wednesday a preview of the criteria for which it will shut down schools throughout the city. CTU President Karen GJ Lewis said the "CPS' school actions appear to be an arbitrary real estate plan and not a school improvement plan that will benefit our students. We have heard the District plans to open 60 new charter operations and it has to get the buildings from somewhere. School closings have a significant negative impact on student learning. These closings destabilize neighborhoods and lead to the layoffs and firing of experienced educators."

I reported last month on groups around the country protesting school closings in some of the nation's big urban districts. These are cities where numerous schools have closed in recent years, and where district officials had announced that more closings were on the way. When I checked in earlier in October, students and activists in Chicago were criticizing the district's process for being opaque and having a disparate impact on minority and low-income students. Many of the same players were involved in this week's protest.

The arrested protesters were released on Saturday morning. No word on a response to Byrd-Bennett's request for an extension yet.

School districts in Philadelphia and New York have also said that they are likely to close schools next year.

Photo: Accompanied by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett speaks at a news conference last month in Chicago after being named to the post.

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