DOZENS OF parents, children and community supporters are occupying a field house at the Whittier Dual Language School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood to stop it from being demolished. The occupation started on September 15 and has continued for nearly a week despite several attempts by Chicago police to break up the protest.
The parents want the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system and its CEO Ron Huberman to stop plans to demolish the field house and build a soccer field–and instead agree to let parents renovate the building so it can become a library (there is no library at Whittier currently) and meeting center.
As one mother, whose children have attended Whittier for the past eight years, said: “This is not private property. This is our property–we pay taxes, we pay for this. It’s not about what they want to do with it–it’s about what we want to do with it. Imagine our kids not having a library.”
The sit-in came after a protest staged by the Whittier Parents Committee, first formed in 2003, at an appearance by Mayor Richard Daley and Alderman Danny Solis, who represents Pilsen, at the nearby Benito Juarez High School. As Lisa Angonese, a new parent at Whittier, said:
We went to the high school to talk to Daley and Solis, since Huberman has not responded to our petition with over 1,000 signatures on it for a library. We wanted them to listen us. They saw our signs, walked right past us and drove away.
We got the cold shoulder from the mayor and the alderman. It was as if we weren’t even there. I think they were afraid. Then we decided to sit in. We are working together as a community–this is what I want my children to see.”
CPS says it will spend $354,000 to demolish the field house building. Whittier parents hired their own engineer, who estimated that the building could be salvaged for a fraction of that cost. According to Gema Gaete, an activist and Pilsen resident, the call from parents is to “repolish, not demolish.”
Chicago Police have threatened and intimidated the parents, including telling them they will be charge with “abandonment” if they don’t pick up their children. Many undocumented parents had to leave the occupation for fear of retaliation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
CPS also sent a locksmith to change the locks on the field house when the parents and students were inside, and put up a sign in English and Spanish stating the building was unsafe to occupy. Protesters removed the sign.
On September 17, officers came to the building and threatened to arrest the occupiers. They left quickly when more than 100 students, parents and community members jumped the school fence, going past police to join the action.
This confrontation won a promise from Huberman that he would meet with the parents. But the parents have heard this before. “He’s said he would meet, and then he sends someone else,” said one Whittier mother. “We want to talk to him face to face. We all deserve equal opportunity. No more lies–they need to hear us.” (read more)