Chicago – The Latino parents who are blocking the construction of a library inside Chicago's Whittier Elementary School on Tuesday accused educational authorities of acting in "bad faith" in efforts to end a conflict that started last year.
In a press release, the Whittier Parents Committee confirmed that the new executive director of Chicago Public Schools, Jean-Claude Brizard, does not want to adhere to an agreement negotiated with his predecessor.
Brizard is "bargaining in bad faith" and "abandoning months of negotiations by reneging on a deal worked out with local elected officials and the previous school administration," the group said in a statement.
Whittier is located in the mainly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood and residents have turned a field house on the school grounds, known as "La Casita," into a community center.
The parents have prevented the demolition of the field house and the beginning of work to adapt a large second-floor room in the school where the library would be built.
They are insisting on the renovation and expansion of La Casita to accommodate both the new library and an adult education center.
Parents occupied the field house for 40 days last year to block the planned demolition.
CPS says that the annex is dangerous because it has structural problems that would endanger students.
"We hope this is the beginning of an open dialogue," Gema Gaete of the Whittier Parents Committee said after a meeting Monday with Brizard.
She said that the parents asked CPS for a letter with assurances that the room chosen for the library will be accessible to all students, including those who use wheelchairs.
The parents committee argues that Brizard's latest plan for the library would deny its use to students with special needs.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said Tuesday that special education had been integrated into Whittier with regular classes, but two rooms are being allocated to attend to cases that require particular attention.
The parents also asked Brizard within the next 30 days to sign the contract that would permit CPS to rent them La Casita for $1 a year, as was negotiated last year.
But in a demand not dealt with in the earlier negotiations, the Whittier parents now also want CPS to contribute funds to renovate the field house, an effort authorities say is impossible due to budgetary problems.
If the parents maintain their blockade and prevent work on the library construction, it will not be able to be finished this summer, Carroll said.
"Parents have re-occupied the field house to prevent any renewed threat of demolition, and have vowed to step up their resistance to the new administrative regime's unilateralism," the Whittier Parents Committee said Tuesday.