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Teachers Demand To Be Heard Protesting School Closures

UPDATED 12/14/11 9:09 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Rainy weather did not impede Chicago Public Schools teachers from continuing their fight against planned school closures into the early morning hours.

As CBS 2's Susanna Song reports, protesters from the Occupy Chicago movement joined teachers at CPS headquarters, 125 S. Clark St., in the demonstration.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bernie Tafoya reports


Dozens of parents, teachers and friends of the union have arrived at the protest at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Even in the rain, many stayed put all night, and lined up at 4 a.m. for tickets to speak at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday night, the Chicago Teachers Union held a rally and candlelight vigil. They are speaking out against proposals by system staff to close 18 schools – phase them out, consolidate them or put them into a top-to-bottom housecleaning it calls a turnaround.

By the 6 a.m. hour, the protesters were allowed to go inside, and were offered free doughnuts and coffee courtesy of CPS.

The Chicago School Board meeting is set to begin at 10:30 a.m.

At the meeting, the board is expected to vote on 12 new charter schools, which the union argues is coming at the expense of neighborhood schools.

Union members say they will fight to stop efforts by the mayor's office to increase the number of non-union charter schools.

Early Wednesday morning, CTU financial secretary Kristine Mayle said it is time for the board to listen to the union.

"We've had 15 years of so-called reform, and things haven't changed," Mayle said. "This year, they haven't listened to the communities, the parents, the teachers, and we're sick of this, and this is the only way we actually get into the board meeting."

Added education organizer Jitu Brown: "I think to see parents go through these measures – because there are parents here; there are teachers here, but there are people in the community – is that Chicago Public Schools has to be held accountable for actually destabilizing education in our neighborhoods."

Adorthis McDowell of the Kenwood-Oakland community says he is against the plan to turn around some schools by firing all of their staffs and hiring new people.

"We want Chicago Public Schools to put the resources in those schools that are being closed – the same resources that they're putting in Walter Payton Academy; Whitney Young," he said.

Union president Karen Lewis released a statement on the closures: "There's no value in shifting children from one under-resourced school to another. The people who live in CPS' targeted communities should have more than a ceremonial say in what happens in, and to, their schools."

CPS chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard has said in the past that he knows this is all difficult for parents and teachers, but he says the district needs to do what's best for students, and that is to eliminate or turn around poor-performing schools.

"We will take whatever steps are available to ensure our students can access higher quality school options in their community immediately – that includes creating new turnaround schools, which have proven track records on boosting student achievement in the district's lowest performing schools, and, in very few cases, close schools where we can safely send students to neighboring schools that are higher performing," CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a prepared statement. "We must make necessary but difficult choices if we are to do the right thing for our students and get them on a path for college and career readiness."

Brizard said earlier this month that some schools are simply beyond hope.

"At the vast majority of schools, we are doing that. But there are some schools that are so far gone that you cannot save them," Brizard said on the CBS 2 Morning News Dec. 1. "There's got to be some hope left in the building for you to be able to turn a school around."

Brizard has asked the Chicago Board of Education to close Simon Guggenheim Elementary School, at 7141 S. Morgan St. in the Englewood neighborhood, and Florence B. Price Elementary School, at 4351 S. Drexel Blvd. in the North Kenwood neighborhood.

Targeted for phase-outs are Dyett High School, at 555 E. 51st St. in the Washington Park neighborhood, and Richard T. Crane Technical Preparatory High School, at 2245 W. Jackson Blvd., on the Near West Side. Phase-outs mean the schools would not admit any new freshmen and the school would shut down once the last class of existing students graduates.

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