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Labor Beat: Pilsen/Little Village School Closing Hearing

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Published on Feb 15, 2013

In the second week of public hearings on proposed school closings, Chicago Public Schools held its traveling inquisition for the Pilsen/Little Village Network on February 6, 2013. By this date, after 8 hearings, CPS officials had decided to slightly modify their approach. School communities in earlier meetings loudly denounced long PowerPoint presentations and getting divided into smaller breakout groups to diffuse their unified opposition. So the officials tonight didn't attempt to chop the audience into "intimate breakout clusters" (CPS's Phillip Hampton's bizarre phrase from the 1/28 Ravenswood-Ridge meeting).

The Walton foundation (Walton = Walmart) donated almost a half million dollars to CPS to fund these hearings, and one wonders if there was some behind-the-scenes coaching from that notoriously anti-union corporation. By the way, the word "hearings" is a poor choice. CPS is determined to close public schools to pave the way for profit-making charters, and they have no interest in hearing inconvenient information. Their objective is to only go through the motions of following the Chicago Facilities Law that requires CPS to hold hearings on school closings. (Though the law also required them to hold hearings in November, which CPS has clearly failed to do.)

These school closing inquisitions have challenged local videographers -- and audiences -- who are forced to suffer through lousy sound amplification setups and very echoey gymnasiums. And the Pilsen/Little Village venue (Velasquez Institute) did not provide an audio box for our videographer to plug into for best recording from the wireless public mic. However, we have edited here the best, most audible highlights, and then enhanced them with observations from Substance News reporter Sarah Chambers -- also a CTU and CORE member -- who was there.

With her running commentary, we witness hundreds of parents and community members being locked out by policemen with bicycles blocking the doors. An African-American parent from Paderewski School points out that the right to equal, quality public education is a basic civil right, as she evokes the memory of Rosa Parks. Other speakers, talking directly and forcefully to the hearing officers, note again and again how indifferent CPS is to their testimony, and how inept they are at even organizing the meeting itself. A student from Madero Middle School tells one hearing officer to his face that their closing of his school will probably break their spirits and their enthusiasm for learning.

Sarah Chambers reminds us that only a few months ago an advisory referendum for an elected school board passed with over 80% approval [87%], and that the current appointed school board system in Chicago will have to go. She also notes that recent CPS annoucements about specific schools being targeted (and not other schools) may be a ploy to 'divide and conquer' in order to reduce the strength of the protests.

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