Chicago announced the country’s largest public school closing Thursday, which will shutter over ten percent of the district’s schools. The city will close 61 school buildings by the beginning of the next academic year, again placing Chicago Mayor Rahm Manuel against the city’s teachers’ union.
Chicago is the country’s third largest school district, but enrollment has dropped 20 percent over the past decade. While the school district can accommodate over 500,000 students, only a little over 400,000 are enrolled. Over 100 schools are more than half empty, and the district has operated with a $1 billion annual deficit. As a result, the district will close 53 elementary schools and one high school.
The Chicago Tribune reports that some school buildings are being shuffled. The school receiving students will relocate to the building of the closing school, and then the old building will then adopt the name of the new school. Another six low-performing schools are facing staff turnovers but will remain open.
These urban schools are predominantly located in Hispanic and African American neighborhoods. Over 30,000 students will be affected by the plan, with roughly half moving into a new school. Some locals have complained that the closures will endanger students who may have to cross through gang boundaries to get to school. Residents fear the risks that come with introducing more abandoned buildings into already decaying neighborhoods.
The Associated Press reports that parents, teachers, and community members have vowed to fight the closing, with one group taking a bus of people to protest in front of the homes of school board members. The Chicago Teachers Union has scheduled a mass protest march through downtown Chicago next week. Other protests have already taken place.
Urban school districts across the country are faced with the same challenge as Chicago. Philadelphia recently closed 23 public schools in early March, a substantially smaller number of schools, but still ten percent of the city’s total. The motivations were the same: Philadelphia needed to address a budget deficit and reduce the number of underused schools. Again, the majority of schools affected were black and Hispanic schools.
Rahm Emanuel has served as the mayor of Chicago since 2011 after previously serving as President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff. He has had a tumultuous relationship with teachers’ unions during his time as mayor. This past summer, Emanuel faced a massive teacher’s strike in Chicago that lasted for two weeks days. Teachers’ unions are not fans of Chicago’s historic massive public school closings, and Emanuel now has another fight on his hands.