Chicago – The protests of Latino parents in Chicago against the demolition of a school annex were the basis for a law signed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to give transparency to the decisions about the closure or construction of public schools.
"I believe the local community should always have a voice in the local decisions that impact them," said Quinn upon signing the law last Saturday in a ceremony at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood.
At his side were state Sen. Iris Martinez and Rep. Cynthia Soto, the two Chicago Democrats who shepherded the bill through the Illinois legislature.
The law obligates the Chicago Public Schools to give greater insight into its decisions to the community.
CPS is now required to inform parents by Dec. 1 about plans to close, consolidate or build schools during the next academic year as a way to inform them and prepare them to participate in the public hearings where the changes will be discussed.
In the face of any significant change that might occur in the functioning of a school, parents and students must have more options to transfer to schools with better performance and to receive support services.
It also establishes that the CPS formulate a master plan for the construction of schools over the next 10 years, the fulfillment of which will be evaluated by a special commission.
CPS has 405,000 students in 675 primary and secondary schools, of whom 40 percent are of Latino origin.
Soto said that the idea or the bill arose after her constituents in the city's Latino neighborhoods complained that changes were being made in the schools without the participation of the community.
The situation worsened last year when a group of Latino parents occupied a field house on the grounds of Whittier Elementary School for 43 days in a dispute over the construction of a library.
The parents wanted to renovate the field house, known as "La casita," while CPS ordered its demolition for safety reasons.
The library would have been established in one of the rooms in a main building of the school, most of whose roughly 600 students are children of Mexican immigrants.
The occupation was ended after negotiations with the CPS but the differences were not resolved, and so this year the parents repeated their protest.
CPS insisted on the rehabilitation of the school room as a library and the parents prevented the workers from proceeding with their work, and so the project remained logjammed with authorities unable to move forward on it during the summer vacation.
"This law makes Illinois a model for comprehensive school planning and brings unprecedented transparency and accountability to CPS," Rep. Soto said at Saturday's signing ceremony.
The measure, according to Sen. Martinez, "ensures that educators, families, elected officials, agencies and city government have their voices heard in these critical decisions that impact our children's education."