CHICAGO - Hundreds of students, parents and community activists joined a rally and march Aug. 28 supporting a one-day Chicago school boycott to protest the destruction of public education. They were part of the Education is a Human Right Day Boycott organized by parents and students in 21 other cities.
In New Orleans, protesters occupied George Washington Carver High School because instruction is still taking place in FEMA trailers eight years after hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Demonstrators in New Jersey marched on the state capitol in Trenton to demand an end to school privatization.
"Today we light the match for an elected representative school board in the city of Chicago," said Jitu Brown, educational organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO). "This is a national fight. We are not alone."
Chicago protesters demanded an end to school privatization, a moratorium on school closings, an elected school board to replace the one appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, dispersal of Tax Increment Financing Funds that have been looted from the schools, and passage of a financial transaction tax to increase funding.
"My three children and I am boycotting today because massive budget cuts are an attack on our children and our city," said Rosemary Vega. Her children previously attended Lafayette Elementary School, which had a renowned orchestra, but was closed along with 49 other schools. "Fifty years ago people marched for justice and freedom. Without justice you will not have freedom," she said.
Vega said the community rallied to save Lafayette but the Chicago Board of Education was deaf to their pleas. She and her family along with other parents and community activists occupied the school but were unable to save it.
"That experience convinced me we needed an elected school board," said Vega. (Article continues after slideshow.)
After the Board of Education approved the closure of 50 schools earlier this spring, Chicago Public Schools management then imposed massive cuts which have resulted in the loss of 1,041 teachers, 474 educational support personnel and 855 other school workers. Fourteen of the "welcoming schools," accepting student from closed schools, lost teachers.
So far most of the "welcoming schools" have maximum enrollment. Many are now over-enrolled and class sizes have ballooned.
Asean Johnson, a 9-year-old fourth grader who electrified a rally to stop closings earlier this spring and who spoke at the 50th Anniversary March on Washington last weekend, said his class at Marcus Garvey Elementary School has 39 students. District guidelines say class size should be capped at 28 for younger students, 31 for third graders and up.
Orleana Smith brought her 4-year-old daughter who is enrolled in pre-kindergarden at Oscar DePriest Elementary School. "I'm here to guarantee her right to a free education," said Smith. "I just bought a home in the community and I'm looking for some stability for her and our family. But it doesn't look like that will happen with everything CPS is doing."
Smith said DePriest, on Chicago's West Side, is a "welcoming school" and is at maximum capacity. She said every space is being used to put students in the school, classes are at 37 students, and it makes her very skeptical that education will be improved for the children.
Over 100 students joined the Aug. 28 boycott, including many from the Chicago Students Union. The CSU led walkouts, boycotts and protests during the last school year and is planning actions for this year.
"A boycott is the only thing that will make the Board of Education realize that something is going on," said Nidalis Burgos, a sophomore at Lincoln Park High School and co-founder of the CSU. "We have the CSU because we want to show the elected officials that we are one and we want an elected school board and an end to school closings and teacher layoffs."
Photo: PW/John Bachtell