After months of suspense and anxiety, Chicago school officials announced Thursday that they planned to close 61 school buildings, nearly 13 percent of the total number of schools in the district in what shapes up to be one of the largest mass school shutdowns in U.S. history.
In addition, another six low performing schools will get complete staff turnovers, but the facilities will remain open.
Prodded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, school officials argue that a dramatic shakeout of district resources is necessitated by declining enrollment, shifting demographics and a huge, punishing budget deficit on the horizon. “We have resources that are spread much too thin,” said Todd Babbitz, the district’s chief transformation officer.
But for many parents and children, the announcement means only that they will be displaced from familiar neighborhood schools and much longer—and scarier--walks to class over busy streets that crisscross through competing gang territories. District officials said the changes would affect 30,000 students.
In the works for months, the final closings list was released as Emanuel was on a family vacation at a Utah ski area.
At City Hall, where things are often measured through the prism of clout, the closure announcements were no different. Outrage was the sentiment from many alderman whose wards are targeted for closures, while for those successful at protecting schools it was an occasion for chest thumping.