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No celebration: Chicagoans protest police, schools

Two dovetailing protests will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in Chicago on Wednesday — a march on the Board of Education by a citywide coalition of community groups at 10 a.m., and a march on City Hall demanding accountability for police killings directly afterward.

Both protests emphasize how far we still have to go to address racial inequality, and both call for the creation of elected bodies to oversee local agencies — an elected school board and an elected civilian police accountability council.

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A dozen community organizations have called for a one-day school boycott and will march on the Board of Education at 10 a.m. demanding an end to the destabilization of neighborhood schools and recognition of the human right to a safe, quality education for every child.

They are calling for an elected school board and reallocation of TIF funds to stop budget cuts.

“Our schools are still very segregated and very unequal,” said Sarah Simmons of Parents For Teachers.  Suburban and selective enrollment schools have a full range of programs while students at Dyett High School in Washington Park are forced to take art and phys ed classes online, she said.

After heavy budget cuts, Kelly High School has two art teachers for 2,700 students and no library, said Israel Munoz, a recent Kelly grad who helped organize the new Chicago Students Union and is now headed to college.

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After the school closing vote

With the school board voting to close 50 neighborhood schools — to nobody’s surprise — the movement that sprang up in opposition moves to a new phase.

One indication: while the board was meeting, eight activists were arrested in Springfield blocking the entrance of legislative chambers, demanding the General Assembly pass a moratorium blocking the closings.

Participating were members of Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We’re going to keep up the momentum to stop school closings,” said Aileen Kelleher of Action Now.  “There will definitely be more large-scale actions.”

“There’s a legislative strategy and a street strategy,” said Jitu Brown of KOCO.  “We are organizing in our communities to stand up for our children, to stand against disinvestment — which is what this is.”

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In contract talks, teachers challenge CPS priorities

Since Chicago teachers voted to authorize a strike last month, contract negotiations “appear to have broadened to include items once thought off the table, possibly including class size,” the Tribune reported recently.

That’s a significant development.  Prior to the strike vote, CPS had reportedly refused to entertain CTU proposals on class size and other issues, including appropriate staffing levels.  The union has proposed providing art, music, and world language teachers for every school, in addition to badly needed counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists.

Those are among the key issues that grassroots parent groups have raised, too.  Raise Your Hand has called on CPS to negotiate over class size and other issues, and Chicago Parents for Quality Education petitioned Mayor Emanuel to address issues like a fuller curriculum and more social supports in planning the longer school day.

By law, CPS is only required to negotiate over economic issues.  In the past the district has agreed to consider these optional classroom topics; this year, it took a strike authorization vote to force them to do so.

It’s a setback for the agenda of corporate reform groups like Stand For Children and Democrats For Education Reform, which as Ramsin Canon points out have no real popular base here but outsized influence due to huge bankrolls.  They opposed the strike vote.

Smaller class sizes: for and against

Classroom issues do not appear to be on the agenda of these groups.  As Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers pointed out here in February, they never talk about the issues that matter to parents – class size, curriculum, less standardized testing – but focus solely on trimming collective bargaining rights and increasing testing in the name of “accountability.”  If you want a better curriculum or better facilities, you can try to send your kid to a charter school.

The issue of class size is revealing.  In forums earlier this year, SFC said the issue wasn’t a priority for them.  In fact, most corporate reformers follow Bill Gates, who has called for lifting limits on class sizes.

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Parents stand up for teachers under attack

With Mayor Emanuel aligning himself with an extremist group focused on attacking teachers, a group of Chicago parents has decided it’s time to speak up in their defense.

“We’re upset with all the teacher-bashing that’s so fashionable today,” said Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers.  “It’s a complete distraction from the real issues facing our schools.”

The group, which started recently with a Facebook page, held its first action Tuesday, the first of several “phone-in days,” with members of parent and community groups calling CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard asking him to withdraw current plans to close and “turnaround” 16 schools. The group argues that a 15-year record shows that these policies don’t work.

“Whenever anyone talks about ‘school reform’ these days, the first thing you hear is some attack on teachers,” Clark said.

She points out that SB 7, which reduced teachers’ collective bargaining rights, “was heralded as the most important ‘school reform’ bill of the year – but it had nothing at all about what really matters: class size, equitable funding, less emphasis on standardized testing, a richer, more interesting curriculum.  It was all about attacking teachers.”

“If you listen to the rhetoric of so-called school reform, you would think there are no good teachers in the system,” she said.  “But if you talk to parents – if you look at the data CPS collects in the surveys where parents rate schools and teachers – there’s a lot of support for teachers.

“Parents deal with their kids’ teachers on a regular basis, they see how hard they work, they see that they are working in the trenches every day for their kids.”

Breitbart connection

Emanuel appeared in a video produced by the Education Action Group, based in Muskegon, Wisconsin.  EAG’s leader, Kyle Olson, blogs on the Big Government website of journalist-provocateur Andrew Breitbart, whose exploits include doctoring video to make U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod look like she was fomenting racial division.

Two years ago Olson was forced to apologize after he was exposed for videotaping an interview with Frances Fox Piven, the activist academic who was a frequent target of Glen Beck, under false pretenses.

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