Divesting in Neighborhoods IS Racist

The first comment Rahm Emmanuel had about school closings was that he wasn’t going to get pulled into name-calling and “schoolyard taunts.” The intent of that was to further polarize the city by throwing it back to Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis. Further, it allowed Barbara Byrd Bennett to get all indignant as a “woman of color.” But as Curtis Black points out, institutionalized racism is a whole other ballgame. We all know that BBB is taking the hit for Rahm, and her attempts to downplay the impact on the community by staging her a counterwalk to the “Walk the Walk” campaign shows she is far removed.

Perhaps he didn’t count on the organization of parents citywide who are arming themselves with facts. The recent protest walk conducted by Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy in Garfield Park highlighted questionable CPS planning. Pegged for closing, Ericson is at 3600 W. 5th. The receiving school, Charles Sumner Math and Science Academy, is at 4320 W. 5th Avenue, just sic blocks away, right? Wrong! Fifth Ave. is intersected by both Garfield Park and the Eisenhower Expressway. The sidewalks crossing these busy intersections have no parkways, and cars entering and leaving the expressway are mere inches from the sidewalk. The thought of primary school children prancing along or dawdling and daydreaming or running along the curb would give any parent nightmares.

Parents and students walk past one of the many abandoned buildings on the proposed CPS route to the "welcoming" school.

Parents and students walk past one of the many abandoned buildings on the proposed CPS route to the “welcoming” school.

Further, the remaining blocks are lined with abandoned buildings, and according to parents, as many as four gangs intersect in this area. On the map it may look short as the bird flies, but it’s well over a mile. I’m a hardy walker – I can easily do a mile in 15 minutes. I walked briskly for 20 minutes and found myself two blocks shy of Sumner when I realized I had to turn around to get back to my car or I’d miss a meeting.

CPS bounces back from their position: first it’s about lack of funds, then underutilization and poorly performing schools. So why close Ericson? Ericson’s reading scores have been on the rise since 2007 – from 41 percent reading at or above state levels to 77 percent. In Math they’ve gone from 58 percent to 79 percent. Ericson is at 65 percent capacity (according to CPS, whose utilization calculations would have autistic kids in a closet and no art rooms, libraries, or computer labs), and while the receiving school appears to have a low enrollment (28 percent utilization) and higher test scores (94 percent in reading and 83 percent in Math) the mobility rate is twice that of CPS average at nearly 34 percent. This means that test scores are unreliable since they don’t necessarily reflect the same students. Ericson’s mobility rate is 16.5 percent and below the CPS average. This reflects a stable school.

The decisions made by CPS do not make sense when looking at these schools on the ground. We have food deserts in these neighborhoods, and now we are creating education deserts. Strong schools make for strong neighborhoods, and if we continue to remove them people will eventually stop sending their kids to overcrowded schools and start clamoring for “choice,” thus allowing Rahm to open more charter schools. Or they pick up and move to Aurora or Kenosha, but Rahm doesn’t care about that because it’s clear from the 250 people marching in Garfield Park amid a cacophony of horn-blowing support – firefighters, CTA bus drivers, lone drivers in cars – his approval rating of 19 percent will only go down. I go back to my point … is this racist or whose interests does he have at heart?

Rahm and Bennett have posited that they will not “short change” CPS students by leaving them with the status quo. However, no one has pointed out that investing in education – a logical principal in a democratic society – is an option as well. Let’s make sure that his education policies become synonymous with the blizzard of ’79 that bounced Bilandic out of office.