Chicago Public Schools officials plan to ask the state legislature for more time before submitting a required list of school closings.
The deadline is Dec. 1 but the district wants to extend it until March 31 while a commission conducts an "extensive community engagement" process, according to the new CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
The nine-member commission will include former Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard, state Sen. Iris Martinez, former Commonwealth Edison chairman Frank Clark along with a former principal, a former teacher and a CPS parent.
Byrd-Bennett said the commission will conduct a "rigorous, transparent and open dialogue with school communities over the next several months to help the district make more informed decisions around school actions and better invest resources that will help kids access a high-quality education."
The commission will then submit a report to CPS officials.
"This is not designed to delay tough decisions," Byrd-Bennett said. “Our goal is to give the community the respect they deserve in this process, rebuild trust with CPS and create a path for right-sizing our district so that we can better invest resources in every child and every school in our city," she added.
State law requires CPS to release a list of school actions, including boundary changes, consolidations and closings by Dec. 1.
Byrd-Bennett said extending the deadline will also "provide schools with the time they need to focus on preparing their students for annual ISAT tests and avoid any distractions to student learning."
On Wednesday, CPS officials said half of the district's schools are underused and nearly 140 are more than half-empty, and added that finding a way to make the best use of buildings will play a key role in deciding what schools to close or consolidate.
Last year, the district's guidelines for closings focused on academically failing schools.
Sources have said up to 120 schools could be closed, but Byrd-Bennett has said no hard number exists. She has acknowledged that convincing community residents to accept any school closings will be difficult, partly because of the low regard so many have for CPS.
The Chicago Teachers Union said later Friday it opposes any extension and that "the only announcement that makes sense on Dec. 1 is ‘There will be no school closings this year.’ "
CTU chief Karen Lewis said the union has called for a moratorium on closings "until we have an analysis of the devastating impact these actions have on our students and neighborhoods.
“CPS owes Chicago a legitimate fiscal plan that details how we build and support school communities," Lewis added. "Taxpayers deserve stability on Clark Street and an end to the revolving door that has created chaos in our school system. They should not change the law because they have a change in leadership."
“Where’s the logic of going on a new school spree at the same time they’re telling us there’s too many schools?” asked CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.
Sharkey later told protesters at City Hall that the school system should stick to the Dec. 1 deadline.
“March is much too late,” he said.
Protesters remained at City Hall late into the evening until they were arrested. They demanded a meeting with Emanuel. "Several" people were arrested, police said.
Tribune reporter Naomi Nix contributed.
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