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Fenger Update: Referendum, Lawsuit, Summit

With some saying violence at Fenger High School has increased sharply since Derrion Albert’s killing on September 24, Far South Side residents are collecting signatures for a referendum to open the old Carver High School building to students from Altgeld Gardens, and high school students from Altgeld are bringing a federal lawsuit charging CPS with violating their constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, anti-violence groups are planning to bring students from Altgeld and Roseland together for a peace summit – and for Thanksgiving dinner.

Ceasefire is planning to bus 60 kids from Roseland and Altgeld downtown for a Ceasefire Peace Summit this Saturday, November 14; a press conference to give young people an opportunity to voice their opinions will be held mid-afternoon, following the summit, said Tio Hardiman.

Kids Off the Block is planning its annual Thanksigiving Dinner for area teens, and Diane Latiker says they plan to have Fenger High School students from Altgeld and from the area around Fenger known as the Ville – who were fighting when Albert was killed – “to sit together, take their prayers together, and eat together.” KOB involves youth from both areas and from other far south high schools where there’s been violence, she said.

Starting today, the Developing Communities Project is collecting signatures to place a referendum on the February 2 ballot in the 9th and 34th Wards calling for restoring the original name of George Washington Carver High School, in order “to ensure greater access and academic/vocational options” for Altgeld and other area students.

DCP envisions additional academic and vocational schools that would be open to neighborhood students sharing the building that now houses the Carver Military Academy. Enrollment in the military academy has declined dramatically since it was made selective enrollment in 2006, and the building could house three or four times as many students as it does now, said John Paul Jones of DCP.

The proposal grows out of a DCP task force examining the loss of vocational education in far south high schools in recent years. Another goal of the referendum is to honor Carver himself, a former slave who whose legacy — defying myths of racial inferiority and promoting education and sustainable agriculture — remains relevant, Jones says.

“There’s huge opportunity in green technology and other industries,” he said. “Bring on a science and technology academy, a botany program, an urban agriculture program.” One option in the building should be a general high school, he said.

Asking for Trouble

“I’m all for it,” said Lattiker of the referendum. “When they made the decision to move young people out of their community and put them in another community…nobody asked the youth what they thought.”

Opened in 2000, Carver Military Academy originally had a student body drawn largely from Altgeld, said Colonel Tony Dagget, who served as the academy’s first commandant. The school was open to any student (the only requirement was an interview with a parent), focused on a college preparatory curriculum, and required parental involvement, he said.

There were “no fights – they weren’t tolerated,” and dropout rates declined dramatically, he said. “The Altgeld students were doing extremely well.”

In 2006 Dagget “chose to be terminated” rather than support then-CPS chief Arne Duncan’s proposal to institute selective enrollment. He says “the school had become a bargaining chip” to offset demands for a new high school in Hegewish, to the east; students there are now bused to Carver Military.

“The school belonged to the community,” he says. “It was clear to me it was an attempt to take it away from the community.”

He adds: “When Arne Duncan was pushing to go to selective enrollment [and send Altgeld students to Fenger], I told them you can’t just throw two high school cultures together without surveys, interviews and a process for dealing with cultural differences — otherwise you’re asking for trouble.”

Violence up, transfers stalled

While CPS said in October that Altgeld students at Fenger could get help transferring to Carver Military or other high schools, civil rights attorney Christopher Cooper says that isn’t happening.

“Parents go to Fenger for transfer papers, and they’re told to go to Carver; at Carver they say they don’t have the papers, and they should ask at Fenger,” he said. “Other high schools in the city that have space to take these kids have said no, they don’t want kids from Fenger.”

Cooper is representing students who live at Altgeld Gardens and attend Fenger – and who say the school is failing to create a safe environment for them. That violates the right to equal access to public education, Cooper says.

“If every day somebody’s beating you up and every day you are detained by security and made to sit in a [detention] room with your bruises, you’re not getting an education,” he said. “And if you’re not going because you’re terrified, you’re not getting an education.”

A number of Cooper’s clients have stopped attending school, some saying they fear for their lives; those who are going “are reporting that the school is more violent than ever,” he said.

One of his clients is a 14-year-old who “was beaten unconscious and throwing up blood,” Cooper said. He predicts CPS lawyers will seek to avoid an injunction hearing in which his clients would testify about continuing violence at the school.

“What’s needed is a clearly articulated transfer program” for students who want to go elsewhere, he said. And it needs to be implemented immediately, not next year, he said.

“Some kids from Roseland want a death from Altgeld for Derrion, and they’re not going to stop until it happens,” said Cheryl Johnson at People for Community Recovery, an organization based in Altgeld Gardens. “We’re trying to stop that.”

One Altgeld mother says her sons have been repeatedly beaten up by large groups at Fenger. “They need to be able to go to our own school,” she says, noting the 45-minute bus ride to Fenger. “I feel they should be closer to home.”

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Category: Altgeld Gardens, CPS, Roseland, school closings, violence

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