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Hundreds Tell CMS To Leave Schools Alone; 2 Arrested At Forum

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About 400 parents and students showed up at last night's CMS forum to tell school board members to leave their schools alone. But the meeting ended before many could have their say, and police arrested two people demanding more time for comment. It was a distraught crowd that came to last night's forum. Parents and students from J.T. Williams Middle School and Irwin Avenue, Lincoln Heights and University Park elementaries came to tell CMS officials that it makes no sense to close their schools. A sampling of comments: "If somebody could explain to me why Irwin? Why are we going to change it into an office building?" "Closing our schools may be giving you guys money, but it's taking away from us." "We are tired of you picking on Lincoln Heights." But many more who wanted to give the board a piece of their mind didn't get a chance. The forums are designed so that people break up into small groups for the first hour and the second hour is more like a public hearing with everyone present. Those discussion groups were civil, but heated at moments. J.T. Williams Middle School parents questioned the district's logic of choosing their school for closure. "They have improved tremendously over the last two years so to now say it wasn't good enough--and they've worked together to pass their tests--you're making them think no matter what I did it wasn't good enough to keep the school open," one parent told the board. CMS staff wants to turn eight elementary schools into K-8 schools. The plan is to close J.T. Williams and two other low-performing middle schools and transfer students back to their expanded elementary schools. Several people like John Man said closing and consolidating so many struggling schools doesn't look good. "Until the board becomes honest and open and transparent with us as a community, then the question becomes racism. Because you're dealing with minority, poor, impoverished people, you're picking on them and closing these schools in the name of saving money," he said. But later in the evening, things got really tense. After the small groups broke up, it took a while to get people seated. The meeting chamber couldn't fit everyone and many ended up watching from another room. That juggling ate into the time people had to comment. So parents were surprised when board chairman Eric Davis closed the comment time 40 minutes after it began. "We're at the end of the hour and I appreciate everyone who spoke. My apologies," he said. "My name was on that list!" yelled on parent. "It started late," said another. But Davis wouldn't budge. "I'm sorry, it's past 8. I said this meeting would end at 8," Davis said. Chants of "We want more time" then broke out." Police began telling people to leave. When they wouldn't, they arrested the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, Kojo Nantambu, who was leading the chant. A teacher was also arrested. But for those who did get a chance to speak many of them called out the board for what they see as going after schools in fragile neighborhoods. "I'd like to know why are all the school closings on the West Side. I don't hear anything about the Ballantyne area," said one parent. And others from University Park and First Ward told the board to butt out of their school. They don't want to see their magnet programs messed with. "Work on something needs help and leave those things that are working smoothly alone," a parent said.