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General CTU Announcement
Community frustration with the Chicago Public Schools is high following last month’s proposal from CPS that 53 elementary schools and one small high school be shut down, and the staff at six additional schools fired. Several aspects of CPS’s announcement have fueled the anger and confusion, including shifting rationales for the closings and a lack of clarity regarding the academic future of students impacted by the school actions.
Video from CTU's bus tour of closing schools where media, clergy, and elected officials toured the sites of CPS' planned closings.
But one reason for the intensity of the uproar may be, ironically, CPS’s public engagement process itself.
Here’s how it works. At monthly Board of Education meetings and three community hearings that CPS holds for each proposed school closing, members of the public are allowed to sign up to speak for a maximum of two minutes in front of CPS officials. The public speaker goes up to the podium and talks. CPS officials make no response. Then the next public speaker goes to the podium. Think an open mic night, or a witness testimony with no cross-examination.
CPS explains that the format is “designed to ensure that the maximum number of people have an opportunity to have their voices heard,” writes CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler to Working in These Times in an e-mail. “An open discussion with Q-and-A would cut down on the number of people who could have an opportunity to be heard.”
Rod Estvan, an education policy specialist at the disability advocacy group Access Living, calls the format a public relations move. “They have decided that they are better off just letting people rant and rave,” says Estvan, who sits on a CPS special education advisory committee. “One bad statement in response could be a headline if there is a reporter at the meeting.”
But if silence is a PR strategy, it may be backfiring. The Chicago Teachers Union--a vocal critic of the closings—finds it insulting. “The format is designed to suppress real input from parents, students and the community,” says CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin, “They don’t even give people the courtesy of feedback.” This week, advocates associated with the Raise Your Hand parents coalition in the Austin neighborhood began to boycott hearings.
The total silence from CPS officials also appears to confound the public at large.
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