Chicago votes to shutter 50 schools; critics petition state
CHICAGO — The Chicago Board of Education voted on Wednesday to close 50 schools and programs, an ambitious plan that has sparked protests and lawsuits and could help define — for better or worse — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s term in office.
City officials say the closings are necessary because of falling school enrollment and as part of their efforts to improve the city’s struggling education system. Critics have blasted Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, and schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, saying the closings disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will endanger children who may have to cross gang boundaries to get to a new school.
They protested during a sometimes raucous board meeting Wednesday and sent busloads of parents, teachers and students to Springfield to lobby lawmakers to approve a moratorium on the closings. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called it “a day of mourning” for the children of Chicago, but Byrd-Bennett defended the decision.
“The only consideration for us today is to do exactly what is right for the children,” Byrd-Bennett said before the vote.
Many experts say it is the largest number of closings at any one time by any school district in recent memory.