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Education Sat Sep 18 2010

Parents and Students Occupy Whittier School Fieldhouse

arms.jpg Several dozen parents and students completed the third night of an occupation of a Pilsen elementary field house Friday night, protesting the planned demolition of the allegedly dilapidated structure. The sit-in has withstood several visits by the police - at one point they threatened arrests then abruptly left after more than 100 students, parents and community members pushed past barricades to support the protesters - and scored the promise of an interview with Ron Huberman to discuss turning the field house into a library for the school.

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The field house of Whittier Dual Language School, at 1900 W. 23rd St., has been used as a center for after-school programs and community meetings. According to Gema Gaete, an activists with Teachers for Social Justice and Pilsen resident, parents found out that the building was set to be demolished in November 2009, when a budget detailing the proposed spending of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money allotted to Whittier was released.

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The itemized budget allocated $356,000 to tear down the field house, Gaete said, and started a call from parents to "repolish, not demolish." Community members hired their own engineer, who Gaete said determined that the building could be salvaged with minimal investment.

CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said the district lacked the money to renovate the building. "(With) the budgetary constraints we are under, nothing is going to happen," Bond said. "That building has to come down."

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The protest has so far seen a couple of iconic moves from CPS - a locksmith came and changed the locks on the field house as parents and students gathered inside, and shortly after the protest began a sign was put up in English and Spanish saying that the building was unsafe for occupancy. After this sign was removed by protesters, CPS security officers put up another sign saying "Off Limits: Do Not Enter" by order of the City of Chicago Inspector.

Anastacia, the mother of two Whittier students and one Whittier graduate, said that it was essential for the school to have an extra library. Speaking with bloodshot eyes filled with tears, Anastacia, who asked that her last name not be used for fear of arrest, said that the teachers required students to do research, but many of the classroom libraries are not sufficient, and many students do not have access to computers.
Despite the threats of arrest and sleepless nights, Anastacia said the fight was worth it because "we're gaining what we want."

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School activism in Chicago has a history of direct actions - in 2001, activists and parents in Little Village went on a hunger strike to revive a forgotten promise for a new school in their high-density neighborhood. Eventually, the city put a $5 million down payment for what would eventually become the Little Village Lawndale High School, also known as the Social Justice High School.

Whether the Whittier parents will have a similar success remains to be seen, but meanwhile the occupation continues.

Yana Kunichoff is a fellow at Truthout.org. Photos by Sarah Goke/Creation Cinema

 

thetous / September 19, 2010 3:41 PM

Great coverage of an important struggle. Please keep us informed.

Naomi / September 19, 2010 9:49 PM

Thank you for this report; this blog post includes important details not reported in the press. I would love to interview parents and others involved in this struggle. Please let me know if you are interested.

Moises Moreno / September 20, 2010 5:56 PM

This is a struggle between Whittier Parents and Alderman Solis that has been ongoing for years of false promises and intimidation tactics. Give the kids their library.

Call 25th ward Alderman Danny Solis at 773-523-4100 and tell him to support the library for Whittier children

Peace

Moy Moreno

lopez / September 23, 2010 4:26 PM

I believe that these parents need to do everything they can to ensure that their children get a quality education. Providing a library and space for reading is essential. Politicians and other corporate interest should put the childrens' needs first for once.

Everyone knows there is enough money to preserve this small building. I pray that these parents obtain the outcome they are seeking because their children deserve it and that is the right thing for the students.

All these issues of injustices need to be address by voters who vote according to their experiences and needs and not because of stars, politicians, and the corporate world promoting issues. The power and decision making should be by the working class, tax paying parents, or the general public.

We need to vote for people who are listening to are issues and experiences and everyone needs to remember that when we vote on November and February.

conspiracy2riot / August 17, 2013 5:02 AM

much peace, love and respect for those fighting this battle.

to those of you threatening the library/community center: rot in hell.

RESIST.

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