The first day of school is usually an exciting time for families. Parents experience the pride of their child advancing to the next grade, and kids get to show off their new school supplies and, you know, learn.
Monday in Chicago, the first day of school is playing out a little differently. Students from the 47 schools shut down earlier this summer are now dispersed to 287 different schools across the city. Thousands of teachers and staff were also recently laid off, making the first day of school this year overcrowded and overwhelming. More than 30,000 children are being affected by these closures, either directly or indirectly.
The 12,000 displaced students were designated to a "welcoming" school. To encourage a smooth transition between the two schools and ease any tension among the communities, Chicago Public Schools hosted hundreds of “cultural integration events” such as bowling parties and field days before school started.
To no one's surprise there have been quite a few bumps on the road. Reportedly, around 2,200 students have not enrolled in the designated welcoming schools. Some moved to different districts, while others enrolled at charter schools. A handful of students in 40 of the 47 closed schools still have not enrolled anywhere. According to numbers obtained through an open records request, "As of last Thursday, 118 students at King Elementary in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood still had not registered for school anywhere."
Also to no one's surprise, the closings are mainly affect Latino and African-American neighborhoods. "Parents and union leaders have protested, saying more children will have to cross gang territorial lines, leaving them potentially exposed to violence in a city that recorded 506 homicides in 2012."
Chicago Public Schools hired 1,200 "safe passage" workers to staff and ensure the school routes are safe for children. There were two homicides this summer along the safe-school routes.
The controversial school closings and massive layoffs are meant to curb the projected $1 billion deficit in the city in 2014.