It’s gonna be a hot one, as they say, and while CPS students are hitting lunch period on their first day of school, temperatures will be climbing to nearly 100 degrees. But that’s not where the real heat is. This school year will witness the effects of a number of controversial decisions – the closings of 49 public schools, deep budget cuts to CPS neighborhood schools – that may ultimately determine the future of public education in this city.
Kids returning to school today do so amid protest, with a citywide school boycott being organized for Wednesday. Here are some highlights from recent media coverage of the schools controversy – this is what students are walking into:
- In the photo above from the Chicago Tribune’s live blog, Mayor Rahm Emanuel escorts students to O’Toole Elementary along a Safe Passage route in Englewood. Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, showed up at O’Toole. John Byrne reports:
After shouting at Emanuel to use TIF money to shore up the school district’s finances, a salvo the mayor ignored, Potter called Safe Passage “a band-aid” that fails to address the causes of violence.
“It’s only budgeted for a year, and of course right now they have all the police, fire trucks and everything to show this big spectacle,” Potter said as a police helicopter buzzed over O’Toole. “But in reality, there’s no guarantee this is going to be here a year from now, and there’s plenty of routes that children come before the Safe Passage routes are available, after school when it’s late and they’re in after-school programs. They can’t guarantee their safety.”
- Safe Passage has become a focal point of the schools controversy. The Safe Passage program consists of routes to neighborhood schools that have workers in yellow vests placed every few hundred feet, the goal being to keep students safe from crime. One of the main points held by critics of the CPS closings is that the closings will force students to cross gang boundaries in order to attend their new schools, making them more vulnerable to violence. The newly invigorated Safe Passage program is the city’s way of addressing those fears, even though the shooting of five men in Uptown and a murder on the South Side, both along Safe Passage routes, just seems to confirm them. Additionally, WBEZ has published an analysis of violent crime in the areas surrounding Safe Passage routes, which have seen 100 shootings and 12 murders this year.
- “Welcoming schools” were designated to accommodate the 12,000 students whose schools were closed this year. Of those students, 2,200 have not been enrolled in their new schools. WBEZ’s Linda Lutton wrote an excellent article charting the diaspora.
- 850 teachers were laid off and an additional 2,100 district employees were fired. Many teachers who had their positions cut or schools closed were added to a substitute pool. Lauren Fitzpatrick profiles three teachers for the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Hey, at least there were free haircuts – from Mitchell Dudek at the Sun-Times.
- The mayor announced on Friday that he was creating a committee to oversee the repurposing of shuttered CPS buildings. Community members worry that the vacant schools will become eye sores, and that they are already being used by drug dealers and criminals. WBEZ photographer Bill Healy released a haunting photo essay of images of the 49 closed schools:
Feel free to share your experiences during the first day of school with us in the comments box below.