Community Takes Over Chicago School Closing Hearing

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CPS School Closings Meeting Gets Heated as Protesters Shout Down Officials

Chanting “Save our schools” and “No school closings,” several hundred parents, teachers and community members refused to let Chicago Public Schools officials speak during a public hearing on school closings Monday night in Uptown.

Attendees filled the bleachers and stood against the wall at Truman College for the opening meeting in the second phase of community hearings being held around the city on the district’s plan to close underutilized schools.

But district officials had a tough time even making a prepared presentation as crowds shouted and chanted. As one official tried to outline the district’s vision, someone shouted, “Do you believe him?” “No!” the crowd answered.

Craig Benes, who oversees schools in the North Side’s Ravenswood-Ridge region, was even heckled at one point when he said he wanted “to just step away from the agenda for a moment and speak from my heart. … I understand that teachers and parents are concerned” — but he asked for the audience’s ear.

He did not get it. The crowd started chanting, “Save our schools! Save our schools!”

The meeting got so heated that the principal at Brenneman Elementary School, 4251 N. Clarendon Ave., decided to leave along with the dozens of children who had come with her.

After the first part of the meeting, Uptown activist Ryan Polker, 22, whose dad and grandparents were teachers, grabbed a microphone at the front of the gym and screamed, “The voice of teachers, students, neighborhoods, are not being heard. … The community feedback is simple, just one sentence: zero school closings.”

Some, including teachers from Stockton Elementary School, 4420 N. Beacon St., refused to attend the breakout sessions designed to gain input from the community later in the meeting. The meetings were run by independent facilitators who don’t work for the district, which was criticized by some at the meeting.

Education activist Tim Furman was furious the district planned to bar members of the media from the sessions.

“Reporters ask questions to find the truth,” he said.