Chicagoans protest naval academy

CHICAGO — With banners reading, “No Military Academy at Senn High School, Teach Peace” and “End the Militarism in Public Schools, Schools are for Learning not for Recruiting,” parents, students and community residents protested at the dedication ceremony for Rickover Naval Academy at Nicholas Senn High School here Nov. 7.

Members of the Save Senn Coalition, veterans and Gold Star family members lined up in front of the school on the city’s North Side. As the crowd of 50 gathered with colorful banners and signs opposing the militarization of youth, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan were inside the school praising the newly opened military school. Over a dozen Senn students walked out to show their solidarity with the demonstrators. Asked why they did it, Mary Reyes, 17, said, “I want my voice to be heard.”

Amanda Trumbull, a 16-year-old African American junior at Senn, told the World, “The military is really slowly trying to take over the school.”

“What they do to the kids is pretty mean, making them stand at the door as office guards — what type of education is that?” she asked.

As protesters read aloud the names of U.S. and Iraqi casualties, passing drivers beeped their horns in support of the anti-militarization protest. Someone in the crowd shouted that militarizing schools makes them “an institution of child molestation.”

The Save Senn Coalition says on its web site, savesenn.org, “Hundreds of teachers, students, parents and activists from the neighborhood and beyond spoke out to oppose this military takeover.” The coalition adds, “Now we continue to fight against the militarization of our schools and for the kind of community high school that will meet our needs.”

The coalition says it is fighting for a school “that is free from a military curriculum and harassment by military recruiters,” and that is “insisting on community involvement in school decisions.”

The parent-student-community coalition says the new naval academy at Senn is part of a larger privatization pattern throughout the Chicago Public Schools, at the same time that many community schools, and their elected school councils, “are being dismantled and replaced by privately managed schools, accountable only to hand-picked corporate-type advisory committees.”

Rickover Academy is the fourth military school opened by the Chicago Public Schools.

The Local School Council at Senn unanimously voted against development of the naval academy in November 2004. Yet on Dec. 15 the Chicago Pubic School Board voted yes to the plan, ignoring parent and community views.

Gina Gamboa, a parent of a Chicago elementary school student, told the PWW she wants to “see our elected officials oppose the militarization and help create reasonable alternatives for our youth.” Just recently the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq, and parents are perplexed why so many Chicago elected officials are not opposing military institutions in the city’s public schools.

The Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy opened in September with about 110 freshmen and is “sharing space” with Senn High School. The naval academy expects to enroll a new class each year, eventually serving 500 students. It is named after the Navy admiral who led the building of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.

Sen. Durbin played a significant role in launching the school by securing $2.1 million in federal funding for the project. In its monthly newsletter, “Anchors Away,” the Save Senn Coalition asks, “Why didn’t Dick Durbin ask the people of Senn where they wanted that $2 million spent — instead of insisting it go to the military? Why are they expanding military programs for poor kids, while taking resources away from other programs?”

The majority of students at Senn High School are youth of color. Student Matt Ryan said he feels expansion plans for the academy have a racist aspect, noting that construction plans involve building over the present basketball courts, where mostly African American youth play.