Schools Close and Voices Raise: The CPS Closings according to a CTU Strike Coordinator

“Approximately 11 percent of the kids in Chicago are going to have their schools closed. Now what does this do to a kid?”

On May 28, Debby Pope, former teacher and current activist with the Chicago Teachers Union, spoke to over 30 students at an event put on by the Peace Project regarding the effects of the public school closings in Chicago.

“It was a great opportunity to bring these perspectives to NU’s campus,” said Hazim Abdullah-Smith, treasurer of the Peace Project and event planner.

“We wanted to highlight her perspective on the issues of the school closings, and understand how the CTU comes together as a unit and as a union to fight for education.“

Pope used to teach high school on the south and southwest sides of Chicago, and was a strike coordinator during the CTU’s historic strike this past fall. Now she fights for good, universal public education by attempting to combat the biggest mass public school closing this country has ever seen.

 

Photo by Megan Spengler
Debby Pope, clad in a CTU t-shirt, speaking to students in Harris Hall. Photo by Megan Spengler.

 

“The battle is about the quality of school. The battle is about having schools that are good for all children,” Pope said.  “Every school should be a place where anybody should feel that their child can go to that school and get an education that will enable them, dare I say, to attend Northwestern University in their future.”

One of their biggest causes was for smaller class sizes, more social workers and counselors, more computer labs, and more art and music for all students. Many of these things are taken for granted by students, but over 110 public schools in the city of Chicago don’t even have school libraries.

While the CTU’s cause is legitimate, and their battle for school quality is necessary, it doesn’t seem as though much progress has been made. In their efforts to promote their causes, the CTU handed out flyers and held rallies at pizza parlors.

Pope acknowledged the CTU’s lack of results, but pointed out that “we did get them to take a few schools off the list [of schools to be closed], and we have started the process of building a movement in this city.”

One of the biggest issues involving the school closings is how extremely dangerous it will be for many kids to get to school. Many will have to cross multiple gang-lines to get to their new schools.

HBO’s TV show “Vice” recently aired an episode showcasing the extremity of Chicago’s problem with gun violence. In fact, there are currently over 100,000 gang members in Chicago, or as interviewed gang members call it, “Chiraq.”

“In my last few years at Gage Park, I lost three students of my own to gun violence,” Pope said.

“This is going to affect kids who aren’t going to want to come to school, who are going to be scared to go home.  I have had kids who were afraid to stay for activities after school because they had to go home right away.”

The CTU is trying to solve this issue, but it isn’t something that can be done by schools alone. Mayor Emanuel plans to expand Chicago’s “safe passage” plan for school children that will put firemen on the streets for the first three months after the school closings, but the plan is only a temporary solution.

“What happens after three months? What happens if there is a fire in the meantime?” Pope criticized.

“Emanuel’s plans for safe transitions and passage are not very good,” she said. “These are plans that are drawn up by people downtown in offices on pieces of paper looking at Google maps.”

A recent article in the New York Times stated that Chicago homicides are actually down 34 percent from last year, which could be attributed to the 400 police officers working overtime to patrol the city’s most dangerous gang zones. There is no simple solution to gang violence, but Emanuel seems to be making more progress than the CTU.

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