One hundred and twenty nine public schools in Chicago are currently “under consideration” for closure by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). This process is largely attributed to an underutilization of school resources caused by major population drops and shifts in Chicago, especially in the south and west sides of the city. While the district currently has space for over 511,000 students, only 403,000 are enrolled; nearly 140 schools are more than half empty.
“If your schools is full, you have more students, so there are more resources for enrichment — computer labs, technology, music and art teachers, and those things that the school doesn’t have the resources for if they have half the number of students,” said CPS spokesperson Robyn Ziegler.
Based on community feedback and recommendations of the independent Commission on School Utilization, CPS has come up with a detailed list of criteria (www.cps.edu) to narrow down its list of schools facing potential closure. For instance, high schools and high performing, Level 1 schools are exempt from closure, as are schools that have recently experienced a significant school action. These potential closings by CPS have been met with concern by many community members.
For one thing, many believe that this will exacerbate the overcrowdings problem that many CPS schools currently face. “I’ve been in classrooms where there’re 40 kids in a classroom,” said Montes. “Imagine now, you add another, two or three from another school that was closed, so now you got 42, 43. That’s another problem.”
Ziegler asserts that CPS has taken overcrowdings into consideration and will not close down a school if all nearby schools are at or near capacity and do not have space to welcome new students. A school is considered “underutilized” by CPS if enrollment falls below 80 percent of efficient capacity.
At the Pilsen-Little Village community engagement meeting on school utilization that was held in Malcolm X College on March 4, Luz Cuadrado, 1st bilingual lead coach from Joseph Jungman Elementary said that the school is “100% utilizing our school building in a way that is beneficial and effective for the students.”
The well-being of special needs students is often a concern of advocates for schools to remain open. Another main issue that community members take with the school closings is the safety of students, especially when they might have to travel through unsafe neighborhoods to get to a school that is farther away.
Virginia Lugo, for instance, is worried about the safety of her daughter Victoria, a sixth grader at Pilsen Academy, if the school closed, because walking to either of the two closest schools on either side would require crossing into two different gang territories.
“Children should not cross these major intersections, because of the hazards caused,” said Lugo.
Many parents at the Pilsen-Little Village community engagement meeting voiced similar concerns, claiming that crossing gang lines poses dangers both in the case of everyday harassment of their children and attempts at recruitment into gangs.
Daniel Williams, of Edison Park, is studying to be a teacher in a Chicago public school. He has attended many community meetings and hearings over the past three years, and said that parents’ protests in the past have done little to change CPS’s decisions on school closings.
“Students have died since then crossing the gang lines or going from one area to another neighborhood,” said Williams, “so I don’t think those things really play into their final decision.”
The 129 schools that remain under consideration were narrowed down from an original list of 330. CPS has stated that it will continue to gather feedback from the school communities before making final recommendations on March 31.
“Obviously, it’s a very emotional decision for everybody,” said Ziegler, “and everyone has an important stake in their children’s schools.”