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Dozens of Chicago Schools to Close

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — March 21, 2013 3 min read
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Chicago school district officials announced this afternoon that it recommends that 54 schools be closed, 11 co-located, and six “turned around.” That’s 71 schools affected overall, and 61 elementary school facilities that will no longer be in use by the district. A slew of information for affected parents, students, and staff and a list of planned community meetings is posted on the district’s website. The district’s announcement highlighted new technology, facilities upgrades such as air conditioning, and safe passage programs planned for affected schools.

The Associated Press reported that administrators and families at some affected schools got the news earlier today. The Chicago Tribune coverage details the anger and disappointment from residents of communities most impacted by the list of recommended closures.

This is the most schools the district has ever closed in a single year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that closing the schools is necessary to address a $1 billion deficit. Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, has said that students from closing schools will have an opportunity to attend a higher-performing school.

The district has been preparing for this announcement for months. The Chicago school system was initially supposed to decide which schools would close by December 1. But Byrd-Bennett requested an extension from the Illinois state legislature in November.

The schools were chosen from a list of 129 announced in February. The district’s Commission on School Utilization, an eight-person committee that was studying which schools should close, released its recommendations the first week in March.

Community activists have protested the changes, citing safety concerns for students and saying the district has disinvested from many traditional public schools as charter school enrollment has boomed. Enrollment in the district’s traditional public schools has been plummeting—dropping from 372,580 students in 2009-10 to 355,762 in 2011-12 according to numbers provided to Education Week by the district.

Race has also come into play. Protesters say the closings will disproportionately affect the district’s black students and black communities, and question whether the schools students will go to are actually higher-performing than the ones they’re leaving.

To address concerns about students having to travel longer distances, the district announced a safety plan for students who will have to switch schools late last week.

The Chicago Tribune had an interesting article earlier this month about how the closings would affect class size in the district’s schools next year. Emanuel reportedly said 30 students is an “ideal” size for classrooms in grades K-8.

The Chicago Teachers Union released a statement condemning the actions, calling the closings “outrageous”.

The actions will not be final until the Chicago Board of Education votes on it in late May, according to the Associated Press.

Other urban school districts, including Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, are planning on closing large numbers of schools this year as well. But Chicago’s list will likely be the longest in the nation.

Photo: Parents protest outside the home of Chicago’s Board of Education President David Vitale’s house on Thursday in Chicago. Teachers say the city has begun informing teachers, principals, and local officials about which public schools it intends to close under a contentious plan that opponents say will disproportionately affect minority students in the nation’s third largest school district.—Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.