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he votes to shut the schools were unanimous for all but Von Humboldt Elementary, which passed on a 4-2 vote. Board members Carlos Azcoitia and Jesse Ruiz dissented. What had once been a boisterous crowd left the chambers deflated, with some people screaming “Rubber stamp!” as they walked out. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett urged the board to approve her recommendations on 50 closures, 11 proposals to put multiple schools under one roof, and five — no longer six — turnarounds. “We can no longer embrace status quo because status quo is not working for all of Chicago’s children, ...” Byrd-Bennett said. “We cannot maintain a system that cannot be sustained.”
Last week, parents backed by the CTU filed two federal civil rights lawsuits, one on behalf of special education students, the other alleging that African-American students were being singled out by the closings. Some 88 percent of affected students are black but black students comprise just 42 percent of CPS students, it said.
The move, which singled out schools that district officials said had too many empty desks after years of population loss — but that opponents argued unfairly targeted low-income minority communities — makes up the largest group of city schools to be closed at once in recent memory.
“The greatest challenge facing our school system right now is that tens of thousands of children every year are trapped in underutilized schools and under-resourced schools,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, who had to pause her remarks more than once when protesters began shouting. She later added, “We cannot maintain a system that cannot be sustained and does not benefit the children.”
Chicago now has 145,000 fewer school-age children than it had more than a decade ago, according to district data, and the district had already closed about 100 schools since 2001. In March, the Chicago Public Schools identified 53 more elementary schools that it planned to shutter, expecting to save about $500 million over 10 years in a district facing a $1 billion deficit.