City youth protest school closure process in national day of action

A group of Baltimore youth called Monday for communities throughout the city to have more say over what happens to their neighborhood schools under the city school system's 10-year-plan to upgrade its crumbling infrastructure.

The youth and young adults of the Baltimore Algebra Project took part in the national day of action that spurred more than 90 events across the country aimed at "reclaiming the promise of public education."

Key participants included the American Federation of Teachers, and more than 60 cities participated in rallies, town hall meetings, bus tours, teach-ins and other activities.
In Baltimore, students said they wanted to institute "community control" over all schools affected by city school's 10-year-plan, particularly schools who are slated to close.
The district's 10-year-plan aims to close 26 school buildings in the next decade as part of a multi-billion plan to renovate and rebuild about 130 others.

The student organizers with the Algebra Project said not only is closing schools a bad policy, but communities were stuck between a rock and a hard place when the plan was presented.

The group noted that in order to secure $1.1 billion in construction funds with help from the state, the city had to acknowledge that it dozens of its buildings were operating under capacity.

"It had a lot to do with the stipulation on the re-construction money," said Jamal Jones. "No one wants to say close the schools but you can't have new schools at the same time."

Citing the closure process cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, which she called "disastrous," local professor Jessica Shiller said that Baltimore's plan to close schools was based on little evidence that the closures would improve education for city students.

She said like in Chicago and Philadelphia, "It's Baltimore's turn to respond to school closures."

Shiller also said the school system's effort to right-size its school portfolio to its shrunken population went against the plans put forth by city leadership to grow the city by 10,000 families in the  decade. 
"We want to plan for growth, not shrinkage," she said.

And, the youth said that instead of school officials telling communities what their schools will look like in the next decade, it should be the other way around.

Michaela Brown said that communities affected by the school closures needed to steer their own meetings -- and be involved in everything from determining whether schools should be torn down, to the architects that rebuild them -- rather than having "somebody from North Avenue consult with them."

"Now, it's set up where you give suggestions that don't necessarily have to be taken," she said. "Community Control is us inviting you to our table."