By HASSAN DOOSTDAR, age 10

9-year-old activist and student, Asean Johnson, speaks at a Chicago Teachers Union rally against school closures. PHOTO: Charles Miller
9-year-old activist and student, Asean Johnson, speaks at a Chicago Teachers Union rally against school closures. PHOTO: Charles Miller

Earlier this year, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system voted to close 49 elementary schools in the city this fall and one school next year. CPS claims these schools have been “underutilized” and are a drain on its resources. The majority of the schools are in low-income black neighborhoods. The closings, supporters say, will help reduce CPS’s billion dollar deficit*, but they may also come at a great cost.

Opponents argue that the closings will affect many kids negatively. When a school is closed, kids are assigned to a different existing one; some kids may no longer have a school in their neighborhood, and would be forced to travel further or even move to go to school. Parents are concerned that most of the schools that kids are moving to will be overcrowded.

9-year-old Asean Johnson lives in Chicago’s South Side and attends Marcus Garvey Math and Science School, one of the 54 schools that CPS had originally scheduled to close. Asean, along with other students, parents, teachers and community members, fought hard to save his school from closing. “I feel that the school closings in Chicago are bad decisions and dangerous,” Asean says.

Students hold a sit-in to protest the proposed closure of Williams Elementary and Middle Schools in Chicago, Illinois on May 3, 2013. PHOTO: OccupyCPS
Students hold a sit-in to protest the proposed closure of Williams Elementary and Middle Schools in Chicago, Illinois on May 3, 2013. PHOTO: OccupyCPS

Gang-related violence is a major issue in Chicago, especially in the South and West sides of the city. Some students may be forced to travel from one gang’s territory to another’s to get to their new schools. “CPS knows the danger in the communities and are sending children across gang lines knowing what will happen to them,” says Asean. “If I passed into another gang territory I will be frightened to go to school every day. Because there are a lot of possibilities when you cross a gang line, you can get shot, kidnapped or even beat up on your way to school.”

As the school system announced the closing of 50 schools in the city, CPS said it would open 16 new charter schools. Asean, who has been a leader in the fight against the closings argues, “That is not equal funding. I feel the school closings are racist because only black and Latino schools are closing and we have less resources. I believe that every kid should have a good education whether it’s in a white neighborhood or black neighborhood; …in a public school or charter school every child should have the opportunity to have great education.”

Chicago students protest the mass school closures sweeping the city. PHOTO: Bill Healy
Chicago students protest the mass school closures sweeping the city. PHOTO: Bill Healy

More than 500 teachers and 300 staff members have lost their jobs because of the closings and in mid-July CPS laid off more than 2,100 additional teachers. Critics say the school closings and layoffs by themselves still won’t be enough to close the deficit. At a protest on June 18, parents and teachers told Fox 32 news that school principals might have to choose between laying off even more teachers or having a shortage of supplies like toilet paper.

Chicago is not the only city making these changes. Philadelphia, Detroit, Newark and Washington have also decided to close schools. All of them had deficits close to 500 million dollars. Many people have been protesting the closings, particularly in Chicago and Philadelphia.

*Deficit: Shortage of money or supplies