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Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 29 2013

1 of 150 Arrested for Protesting School Closures

By David Stieber

cpsclosings_photo.jpgOn Wednesday, I, a Chicago Public Schools history teacher, a father and husband, was arrested for sitting down on La Salle Street in front of City Hall and refusing to move when asked to do so by the police. I along with nearly 150 others was taking part in an act of civil disobedience against the school closing policies implemented by Mayor Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the Board of Education.

You see, those of us who chose to get arrested and the other couple thousand marching legally against the CPS plan to close over 54 public schools are beyond frustrated that we live in a city that is governed by lies and press releases.

The justifications that CPS are using to try to convince the public how "necessary" it is to close public elementary schools in African-American communities are typically these four points:

1) CPS says closing schools will save money. In two separate reports by Catalyst and by CReATE [PDF] both studies found that school closings either do not save any money or it only saves a very miniscule amount of money.

2) CPS has been toting an alleged $1 billion budget deficit, which is again not true. CPS actually has a $500 million surplus, not deficit.

3) The formula that CPS uses to determine if a school is "underutilized" is not a valid measure of deciding under utilization according to research done by Raise Your Hand Illinois.

4) CPS claims that students from closed schools will go to "better" schools. Again this is untrue according to a report by the Sun-Times.

So with all this in mind, when I was originally asked if I was willing to participate and be trained for a civil disobedience that would lead to my arrest, I stopped to think. How much longer can I go on letting my students in Englewood be treated as second-class citizens by a school system that says it cares about them?

I believe and am constantly telling my students that if you work hard enough you can overcome many obstacles in life. The issue is that CPS has forced my school (and many like it) to have to get rid of our librarian, second counselor, attendance clerk, technology coordinator and schools accountant, and only have a nurse for a half-day on Fridays, all in the name of "budgetary reasons." It seems to me that our mayor and CEO, no matter what they claim about their policies not being racist, are very much in fact promoting and implementing racist policies while letting institutional racism permeate through this district.

Before the disobedience I also thought of my 1-year-old son and what kind of person I want him to be. I thought of my wife, who is an amazing CPS teacher but because of many of the harmful CPS policies like schools closings sometimes thinks about other careers.

I thought of every person that inspired me to be a history teacher and all the amazing actions they took. I knew that I had no choice but to participate in this act of civil disobedience.

While I sat on the cold cement among lunchroom staff, custodians, teachers and clergy, I couldn't help but feel angry that we live in a society that tries to close public schools. While sitting on the ground next to a man in his seventies with bad knees waiting to be arrested I couldn't help but wonder how many more arrests will it take before this mayor actually listens to the people?

While the police treated all of those arrested with the upmost respect, while the crowd of protestors cheered for us and our disobedient actions, I thought to myself, we're getting arrested for sitting on the cold cement in front of city hall, yet our mayor is legally allowed to close 54 public schools and receives praise that his actions are a positive step for communities he never even visits.

This whole fight around school closings and public education comes down to whom will you believe.

Will you believe a mayor who sends his kids to one of the best private schools in the state with art, world languages, counselors and resources?

Will you listen to Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was responsible for closing public schools in Detroit in the name of "what's best for the community"?

Or...

Will you listen to the students, parents, clergy, school employees and people of the communities where these schools are located who are demanding and demanding that no schools be closed?

As Gandhi eloquently states, "All through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always."

Remember everyone, this is our fourth CEO in three years and Barbabra Byrd-Bennett will soon be gone like Brizard, Manzany and Huberman.

Our mayor only has a 19% approval rating so in a few short years hopefully he will be gone, too.

The important thing is to make sure that none of their policies like school closings last any longer than either of the people attempting to implement them.

It will take many more arrests, sit-ins, occupations and forms of civil disobedience to bring these school closings to a halt, but once again to quote Gandhi, "First they (CPS) ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." CPS and the mayor are in a full on attack against truth and against democracy, but as we will see, truth always wins.

~*~

David Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He recently earned his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

 
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