CHICAGO — Hundreds of teachers, parents, students, union leaders and local activists rallied here Jan. 28th at the Chicago Board of Education building against the board’s plan to close, consolidate, phase out and “turn around” more than 20 schools. Protesters led a march downtown chanting, with signs in hand, speaking out against the measure which, they say, will displace students and teachers, throw communities in turmoil, put hundreds out of work and undermine public education in Chicago.

“I’m a soon to be displaced nationally certified teacher,” said Daisy Sharp who has been teaching at Oliver Wendall Holmes in the Engelwood community for the last six years.

Holmes is slated for “turnaround,” which means that everyone at the school including maintenance, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals will be laid off, some who have been working there for more than 25 years.

“The number one thing we need to do is to vote Mayor Daley out of office and squash his Renaissance 2010 plan because it’s all lies and big business. Not only is Daley trying to privatize our schools he’s also trying to bust our union,” she said.

Sandy Schultz with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) said, “Schools can be turned around one at a time with a smart educational plan that includes proper funding, adequate supplies and books. Renaissance 2010 is part of a privatization plan to force the union out and weaken our membership.”

CTU President Marilyn Stewart was at the rally. “This is a grassroots effort and we’re calling for an immediate moratorium on school closings,” said Stewart. “It’s not right that teachers and parents have to look for new jobs.” Stewart added, “Teachers are tired of being disrespected and we know we could make Chicago a model for the nation but not by closing our schools.”

Critics charge Renaissance 2010 is part of a long-term privatization scheme of public education backed by Daley, who took over the school system in 1995. Many believe school closings target poor neighborhoods where populations are decreasing due to the destruction of public housing and skyrocketing rents.

The heart of the problem, many say, is George W. Bush’s unpopular No Child Left Behind law.

The school district contends that many of the schools in question have low enrollment and are failing academically. Yet others believe modest gains have been made in recent test scores. While others claim that such standards under No Child are a highly flawed indicator of actual learning.

Of the 400,000 students in the Chicago school system, 46.5 percent are African American, 39.1 percent are Latino and 8 percent white.

Nearly 70 schools since 2001 have been closed. Currently there are more than 50 Renaissance schools, which receive corporate funding and are privately operated. Half of the members with the CTU could be forced out of the union by 2020 under the plan.

Since 2004, Renaissance 2010 has led to private-run charter and contract schools that push out teachers and students and outsourcing education in low-income communities targeted by City Hall for real-estate development. Educators and supporters at the protest say Renaissance 2010 fails to include parents, teachers and students in the decision-making process.

Maria Ibarez is an eight-grader at Carpenter Elementary on the city’s north side. Her school is on the closing list. “I’m here because I want to help save my school,” she said. “It’s our second home and it’s a community school that opens its doors to us.”

Ibarez’s father Jose Luis joined her at the rally with his family. Mr. Ibarez hopes Chicago Public Schools officials will visit the school. “Come and get to know the students, teachers and families before you take away the children’s education,” he said.

Meanwhile Daley recently appointed Ron Huberman as the new CEO of CPS. Huberman, a former police officer recently served as president of the Chicago Transit Authority. Many feel he is unfit for the job and out of his league especially because he has no background in education.

The Board of Education plans to hold public hearings about the closings and is expected to make its final decisions at its meeting next month.