Beads of sweat dripped down Jitu Brown’s face as he addressed about 150 marchers who had gathered on Sunday afternoon outside Overton Elementary School in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
The school at East 49th Street and South Indiana Avenue is slated for closure as part of Chicago Public Schools’ plan to shutter 53 elementary schools and one high school program.
Closing Overton and sending the school’s students to nearby Mollison Elementary will force children to risk their lives to get to school, said Brown, a parent and organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.
“There is no way (CPS) can keep people safe walking through this danger zone,” he yelled into a megaphone. Earlier this month, a man was fatally shot along the route that Overton students might take to their new school, according to Brown and police reports.
The marchers were on their second of a three-day, citywide protest against the proposed closings. Concerns about student safety are among the many objections that teachers, parents and community activists have raised in response to the closure plan.
CPS officials say the closures are necessary because many schools are underutilized. The district faces a $1 billion budget gap next year. In response to safety concerns, the district has pledged to spend millions of dollars to expand its Safe Passage program, which stations adults along school routes to keep watch as students travel to and from school.
As the sweaty marchers made their way through South Side neighborhoods Sunday afternoon, supporters honked from their cars and residents stepped out of their homes to gawk and cheer.
“Rahm Emanuel, we’re no fools; we won’t let you close our schools,” the marchers chanted while waving signs with slogans like “Public education is a civil right” and “No more failed education experiments.”
The three-day series of marches through neighborhoods with schools on the closure list was part of a final push organized by the Chicago Teachers Union and community groups before the Chicago Board of Education votes Wednesday on the closure plan. The marches will culminate Monday afternoon with a rally outside City Hall.
CPS Chief Executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett, in an email to parents on Sunday, warned that organizers had recruited high school students to attend Monday’s rally.
“Parents should know and understand that this activity is not planned or endorsed by either their student's school or CPS, and the District has no responsibility for any occurrences related to this activity,” she wrote.