Some people think so.
At the most basic level, there’s the fact that decisions about African American communities are being made without their consent.
Of 54 school closings proposed by CPS, 51 are in low-income African American areas; 90 percent of students being impacted are black.
“If you look at the people making the decisions and the communities they’re talking about, you have white males saying they know what’s best for African American students,” said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.
“Barbara Byrd-Bennett is not calling the shots,” he said. “Mayor Emanuel and David Vitale and Tim Cawley are calling the shots. She’s just an expert in closing schools who they brought in to do that. She’s just the messenger.”
Comments Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition, “She’s put in place to implement these policies so they can hide behind her.”
Byrd-Bennett “would not have been hired if she was not on board with [Emanuel's school closing agenda] — and with the priority of providing opportunities for private educational interests to make money bringing in mediocre interventions for black children,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.
Three high schools
For Brown, it’s about the school system’s priorities — and that’s a civil rights and human rights issue.
“The priority has been to disinvest from minority communities and invest in failed programs, invest in charter schools and contract schools,” he said. “The priority has been that minority children don’t have the same quality of education.
“Example: Look at North Side College Prep, they have 22 AP classes. Lakeview High, with about 18 or 20 percent African American students, a few blocks from the mayor’s house, they have 12 AP classes. Dyett High School, 99 percent African American and 95 percent low-income, no AP classes.
“Look at world languages. North Side College Prep has everything from Chinese to French, German, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish — levels 1 to 4 plus AP. Lakeview has Mandarin Chinese, French, Spanish, Spanish for native speakers, levels 1 to 4 and AP Spanish. Dyett has Spanish 1 and 2.
“The expectations have been lowered — and they’ve been lowered by the district.”
Dyett is now being phased out, with new students sent to Phillips High School. That’s an AUSL “turnaround” school — and it’s at the lowest academic standing, with scores significantly lower than Dyett’s and lower rates of graudation and of graduates enrolled in College (Dyett has 63 percent for the last category.)
“No school with predominantly white enrollment would face that,” said Brown.
“Now we know that only 1 in 5 charter schools outperforms public schools,” he said. “That’s true nationally and it’s true in Chicago. We’ve known since 2009 that only 18 percent of the school that replaced closed schools [which have impacted black students almost exclusively] are high-performing, and that includes charter and contract schools.
“That’s despite the advantages of having selective enrollment tools like applications and lotteries, of not having to follow [CPS's] Student Code of Conduct, so they can push students out — and they do,” he said.
“And there’s no way they would go into a white community with an intervention that has a record of only 1 out of 5 high-performing schools.
“So it is institutional racism,” Brown said. “Beecause the real motivation is not school quality; the purpose of closing schools and privatizing schools is not to invest in school quality any more than it ever has been.
“They’re not interested in making sure black children have access to a world-class education. If they were they would replicate the good neighborhood schools that work. They have run a system that intentionally ensures that children on the South and West Sides go to test factories instead of schools.”
“You’re not providing a quality education to a certain group of people,” he said. “And then to be so bold as to attempt to profit off the mess you’ve made….
“At bottom it’s a human rights issue,” Brown said. “The children at Dyett deserve the same type of schooling they have at North Side College Prep.”
Truss concurs: “If you look at where the majority of magnet and selective enrollment schools are located, they’re in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they get the extra funding and the extra support,” he said.
Another issue is the impact school closings will have on struggling communities.
Thousands of African American educators and school staff will be losing their jobs — at a time when black unemployment in Chicago is far higher than most big cities, Truss points out.
“School closings will absolutely make things worse with the foreclosure crisis,” said Redmond. “All the plans they’re coming up with are strangling the community, and it needs to be called what it is — some call it ethnic cleansing — but part of the corporate strategy for the city is to weed out these neighborhoods.
“They’ll deny it up and down but that’ the fact, that’s what’s happening to these communities,” he said
“I am concerned that when you close these [school] buildings, the effect it’s going to have is that people won’t want to stay in an area without a school they can walk to,” said Valerie Leonard of Lawndale Alliance. “Just like when International Harvester closed — people left in droves. That’s likely to happen now, especially because it’s so much more dangerous. The farther you have to go the more likely you’ll have trouble.
“When you have policies that further destablize the commuity, that’s a concern,” she said. “Especially when it’s being brought to their attention, and they are still going forward.”
“Unfortunately the mayor isn’t listening at all,” said Redmond.