After chasing down Ron Huberman as he ran to his car this morning, Whittier parents have a meeting with the CPS chief tomorrow.
The parents, who have occupied the fieldhouse at Whittier Elementary School in Pilsen since September 15 demanding a library for their children’s school, turned down a proposed settlement from Huberman yesterday.
This morning they learned from media accounts that Huberman said he was planning a meeting with them on Wednesday, said spokesperson Evelyn Santos.
“We found out by reading it in the paper,” she said this morning. “But we don’t know the time or the location. Who sets up a meeting like that?”
Today Huberman was meeting near Whittier at Benito Juarez High School with local elected officials and leaders of local charter schools. Members of the Whittier Parents Committee went but “they wouldn’t let us in,” Santos said.
“There was a big guy with a list of names of who could come in,” she said. “He looked like a bouncer.” The Whittier parents weren’t on the list.
After the meeting Huberman left by the back door and “was running to his car” and “we ran over to him,” Santos said. “We said what’s going on? You come to this neighborhood and you can’t come and talk to the parents?”
She said Huberman insisted the parents come downtown and proposed a meeting at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
“He’s the head of CPS – doesn’t he know that school gets out at 3?” They proposed an earlier meeting, and later this afternoon Huberman called to confirm a 9:30 a.m. meeting at CPS headquarters. Seven parents will attend the meeting and the rest will be waiting outside, Santos said.
On Monday CPS announced it was willing to build a library inside Whittier and turn the fieldhouse over to an outside group. The parents committee rejected the proposal.
“There’s no room for a library inside the building,” Santos said. “We need an expansion. We have 1st and 2nd graders together and kids eating lunch in the basement.” Whittier recently went from K-6 to K-8 when nearby De La Cruz Middle School was closed.
“Show us where the library is going to be built” inside the school, Santos challenged. “Let the press in – they’ll see there’s no room.”
The parents committee, which has operated community programs in Whittier’s fieldhouse for years, also wants to be in charge of running the building. Over the years parents have built a strong community school program, partnering with groups such as Chicago Children’s Choir, Alivio Health Center and Merit Music School, developing a community garden across the street, and holding after-school and adult education programs in the building.
And they’re the ones who’ve been fighting for years for TIF funds to improve the facility, Santos said. The proposal to bring in an outside group is “a slap in the parents’ face,” she said.
Last week negotiations brokered by Pilsen elected officials fell apart after they obtained a written list of the parents’ demands and Huberman failed to respond, Santos said. The parents decided to hold an overnight vigil at CPS headquarters Sunday night, and went to Huberman’s office Monday morning. He wasn’t in.
Santos said the parents finally received a copy of an engineering report done for CPS which declares the building to be unsound. She said it was clear the study was done after the decision to demolish was made.
The new CPS proposal is a big step forward from its previous offer to delay demolition for six months. “We’re getting close,” said Santos. But she said the sit-in will continue until they have an agreement in writing.
Santos believes Huberman is dragging his feet (when he isn’t being chased) because he’s afraid the Whittier parents will set an example for parents at other schools – including the 160 that don’t have a school library, according to CPS.
Parents are coming up against Huberman’s agenda of shifting resources “from public schools to charter schools,” Santos said. “You talk about reading levels and you defend having 160 schools without libraries?” she said. “Shame on you!”
At a deeper level, the parents are challenging CPS leadership’s refusal to “hear our voices,” she said. “They don’t listen; they ignore us. The only way to have our voices heard is to sit in.”