Move by mayor's school board to close Black schools is assault on democracy
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey issued the following statement today in response to the decision by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked school board to close five Black schools over sweeping community opposition.
Today we saw the naked hand of political repression reach out from the mayor’s office, when Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked board ignored the passionate pleas of students and parents and voted over sweeping community opposition to close another five Black schools. To add insult to injury -- and drive home the racist character of these closures -- the board voted this travesty on the last day of Black History Month.
It was truly gut-wrenching to listen to elementary and high school students beg this board, sometimes through tears, to protect rather than annihilate their school communities. Other students were full of anger, saying repeatedly that the board would never do to a white school community what was being done to them today. Students who were barred from the board meeting occupied the lobby of school headquarters, then took their protest – and their anger – to city hall, where they held another impromptu rally to oppose this mayor’s racist school policies.
Yet this school board ignored them – just as the school bureaucrats and the mayor who dictates their actions ignored parents, students and community residents four years ago, when Emanuel instigated the largest wave of mass school closings in U.S. history. Four years ago, the burden of those school closures fall overwhelmingly on the shoulders of Black and Brown students. Today was no different.
The reality is that this mayor and the school bosses he appoints don’t give a damn about the well-being, education or future of this city’s working class Black and Latinx students. Quite the opposite. This mayor, like the mayor before him, has ratcheted up school privatization, disinvestment and nakedly racist funding policies that undercut working class students of color. Emanuel’s proxies today rubber stamped a longstanding racist cycle of disinvestment in Black neighborhoods. The mayor controls the school board -- and mayoral control continues to drive these policies, while shielding the board from repercussions for their actions.
Twice, now, the Illinois House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to end the mayor’s choke-hold on the school district and provide for an elected, representative school board in Chicago. Yet the legislation remains stalled in the Illinois Senate. It’s time for Senate leadership to take the path of democracy and justice, and join the House in granting the largest school district in the state the same democratic rights enjoyed by the rest of the state.
The vote to close these schools – to acquiesce once again to the mayor’s pitiless and failed school policies – has reignited a fire for democracy that will leave Emanuel’s reputations in tatters and the seats of his current board members empty. We’re asking every Illinois resident to contact their state senator and demand for Chicagoans what every other school district in the state has: an elected, representative school board that provides residents with the democratic control and accountability we deserve. And we will continue to fight school privatization, school closings and so-called phase-outs on the ground with our members, our parents, our students and this city’s growing grassroots movement for educational equity, in what is evolving into one of the great civil rights battles of our time.