Alderman Bob Fioretti speaks in front of an condemned building along the new route schoolchildren will walk. (Rick Perlstein.)
Yesterday morning twelve-year-old Jasmine Murphy, a red fabric flower woven into her hair, stood in front of a bus full of reporters, TV news correspondents and their cameramen, Chicago Teachers Union officials and other activists, congressmen and aldermen, and told them what it was like when the school she loved was closed. "It was emotional for me. If we were struggling during class, we had tutoring …. We had our teachers' numbers. Home numbers, cell numbers, we could call them any time, no matter when it was—one o'clock in the morning—and they would help us with our work."
She pauses, and now she is crying. "I just really miss it."
When the Chicago Public Schools' former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard asked the school board to close Guggenheim Elementary in 2011 he called it one of the system's schools that are "so far gone that you cannot save them." That doesn't seem to have been Jasmine Murphy's experience: educated at Guggenheim since kindergarten, she maxed out on the state's standardized test, and was accepted for next year at a high school with a rigorous International Baccalaureat program. Brizard's claim, in fact, speaks to one of the biggest reasons so many parents here in nation's third largest city so distrust their school system: the shifting rationales for the bewildering, whiplash-inducing destabilizations it insists on visiting upon their children, at some schools literally every other year, in the name of "reform." For today, the explanation (sold to the Chicago public via TV commercials paid for by the Walton Foundation) for the biggest one-time school closing in the history of the United States—fifty-three schools—is the statistically dubious one about "underutilization" of school buildings.
The Guggenheim closing speaks to another reason people don't trust the Chicago Board of Education. Here's Jasmine, toughing it out through tears: "I live right across the street from Guggenheim, so it was easy for me to attend." That meant she was safe. Now she attends a school a considerable distance away. Her mom Sherri drives her there and back every day. "But not everyone has a ride," Sherri points out. She addresses her next remark to Mayor Emanuel—angrily: "You didn't think about safety. And you didn't think about the harm to our community." New kids from closed schools, you see, are stigmatized as stupid and harassed; this in addition to the issue of crossing gang lines I discussed here. That's one of the reasons that, Jasmine's mother observes, at her next school, her formerly voluble daughter "sat in class and didn't talk to anyone."