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Chicago Public Schools Memo Instructs on How to Handle Civil Disobedience Against School Closings

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) currently intend to close fifty-four schools before the year is over. This means Chicago is likely to have the largest number of school closures in any city in America this year.

Students and parents from Lafayette School protest school closing (Creative Commons-licensed Photo by chicagopublicmedia)

President of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Karen Lewis, has declared, “Closing 50 of our neighborhood schools is outrageous and no society that claims to care about its children can sit back and allow this to happen to them. There is no way people of conscience will stand by and allow these people to shut down nearly a third of our school district without putting up a fight. Most of these campuses are in the Black community. Since 2001 88% of students impacted by CPS School Actions are African-American. And this is by design. ”

She added, “These actions unnecessarily expose our students to gang violence, turf wars and peer-to-peer conflict. Some of our students have been seriously injured as a result of school closings. One died. Putting thousands of small children in harm’s way is not laudatory.”

A major demonstration is planned for downtown Chicago tomorrow. The streets may look like they did back in September when CTU went on strike.

CPS has “figured out” there might be acts of civil disobedience at schools in order to save schools from being shut down. A memo that Catalyst Chicago obtained, which was written for “network chiefs” (CEOs of school networks in the school system) warns of the potential for civil disobedience and instructs them on how to handle protests and civil disobedience actions.

It states, “There may be those who wish to disrupt the education of our children. While we respect the right of those who wish to peacefully protest and express themselves, this cannot be at the expense of our children’s future.”

Closing a child’s school is far more likely to disrupt that child’s education than civil disobedience. In fact, it is inarguable that a child will learn more engaging in civil disobedience than he or she will being removed and transplanted to another school because a mayor and his city’s board of education will not continue to fund them. But, don’t expect CPS to grasp the irony in this warning.

Under “CPS Guide to Civil Disobedience,” it reads, “Protestors often explain away their acts of disruption based on “1st Amendment rights”, but then go far beyond those rights in their acts.” It is true that protestors did not technically enjoy a “First Amendment right” to engage in civil disobedience, but then, again, individuals engaged in civil disobedience understand there is a potential they will be arrested for disobeying the law. They are doing so on purpose to call attention to something unjust and hopefully bring it to a halt. [cont’d.]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."