Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is headed for another clash in coming months with unionized teachers over whether to close dozens of schools, after a bitter teachers strike temporarily shut down the nation’s third largest public school district in September.
Facing a Dec. 1 deadline to issue a proposed list of schools to be closed, new Chicago Public Schools chief executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Friday asked the state legislature for a four-month delay until March 31.
She said time was needed for a “rigorous, transparent and open dialogue” with school parents, teachers and other.
Feelings are still raw after the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years drew national attention to the city’s dispute over education reform.
Chicago teachers and some parents complain that Emanuel’s administration has ignored their concerns.
Chicago has seen a 20 percent surge in the number of murders this year, and people in crime ravaged neighborhoods worry that closing schools might force students to cross gang boundaries and increase urban violence.
More than 200 people, including teachers union members, parents of Chicago school students and other activists, rallied against school closings at Emanuel’s office on Friday, and some staged a sit-in nearby.
Urban school districts around the country are grappling with the same issue of closing schools, including Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Washington, according to a study last year on school closings by the Pew Charitable Trust.
In a statement on Friday, Byrd-Bennett acknowledged the delay was requested to repair a rift with some in the community.
“Our goal is to give the community the respect they deserve in this process, rebuild trust with CPS (Chicago Public Schools) and create a path for right-sizing our district,” she said.
But the union said it wants a halt to school closing rather than extending the deadline.