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Sudden school shift raises questions

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The last-minute relocation of a Mid-South elementary school has raised questions of process and planning for area schools.

At the end of July, CPS announced the immediate closing of the Crispus Attucks School building, 3813 S. Dearborn, and the relocation of Attucks to the vacant Farren School, over 12 blocks away at 5055 S. State.

In an open letter to CPS chief Arne Duncan released today, Grand Boulevard Federation [2]president Gregory Washington noted Duncan’s promise to consult the community group over school closings, and says Duncan “did not keep [his] word.” Washington requested meetings with CPS staff and the release of Farren’s facilities report.

He said the Farren building’s immediate needs include phone lines, internet connections, asbestos abatement, and accessibility upgrades — as well as replacement of the auditorium’s stage (it was previously removed), enlargement of the parking lot, safety cameras, and desks and chairs.

Community members were told Attucks closed because it needed a new boiler and, with a $7 million price tag, replacement was “cost-prohibitive,” said GBF education coordinator Andrea Lee.

But this summer CPS spent $6 million upgrading nearby Raymond School before leasing it to Perspective Math and Science Charter School, she said. Raymond was closed in 2004 because ADA renovations there were deemed too expensive — and its students were sent to Attucks.

Lee said that, with limited capital funding available, CPS spent $11.5 million of a total of $15 million in last year’s construction budget [in Bronzeville] on charter schools. “It looks like CPS is intentionally disinvesting in these neighborhood schools,” Lee said.

The last-minute shift of Attucks was especially difficult because, due to public housing demolitions, half the school’s students don’t live in the immediate area, Lee said. Attucks has the highest homeless population of any city school, she said.

She said members of GBF’s parent network “pounded the pavement” to inform parents of the change and of a community forum called by local elected officials after CPS held no information sessions.

With an active education committee and a Peer Parent Education Network, GBF is “working constantly to improve the schools, provide resources, work with parents and students,” Lee said. “We’re not just out here griping.” The lack of communication over Attucks “has left our education committee feeling disrespected,” she said.

GBF has called for an open planning process for Mid-South schools. Lee notes that no neighborhood schools remain on the northern end of the State Street corridor, while there are four within a one-mile radius on the southern end. She said there seems to be no coordination between CPS, which is closing neighborhood schools, and CHA, which is starting to repopulate the area through public housing redevelopment.