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Community members gather outside the field house of Whittier School in Chicago. Chicago Public Schools wanted to tear it down, but the school’s families want it turned into a library. PHOTO: Flickr/Sarah-ji


A Chicago School Community’s Fight for a Library

By AMANDA VENDER

The kids and parents of Whittier Elementary School, a public school in Chicago, Illinois, don’t have a school library and they believe they should have one. They feel so strongly about it that, on September 15, a group of parents and kids sat in a small building on school grounds that was supposed to be torn down and refused to leave. For 43 days they stayed inside the building to prevent it from being torn down. The school’s families proposed that the building be turned into a library.

Whittier School is in a neighborhood where many people are immigrants from Mexico. The school was run down and last year the parents won $1.4 million to make improvements. Parents found out in September that $350,000 of this money would be used to tear down the small building called “La Casita” (“little house”). The building has been used as a community space for the parents to meet and take computer, sewing and English classes together.

The school district said that the building was unsafe and had to be torn down. The parents didn’t believe the school district. They found their own building engineers to study the field house, who said it was in good condition and only in need of roof repairs.

“When I heard that they were going to knock it down, but the moms wanted to make it into a library, I knew that this was my fight,” said fifth grader Daniella Mencia on the news program Democracy Now! In late October, state, city and school officials negotiated with the parents. The school district promised not to tear down the field house, to let the parents use it and to build a library. In a statement of victory the Whittier Parent Committee said it would end the sit-in, but would continue to negotiate with Chicago Public Schools. “The fight continues so that we can ensure that we have a quality education for all children!”

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Parents went ahead and, with donated books, set up a library for the school in the field house. Whittier is one of 160 public schools in Chicago that does not have a library. PHOTO: Flickr/Sarah-ji
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Parents and kids speak out at a press conference. PHOTO: Flickr/Sarah-ji
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PHOTO: Flickr/Sarah-ji