Nineteen persons spoke at a community forum on Nov. 17 in support of establishing a new school in the “central core,” a portion of the Fifth Ward west of Green Bay Road. The central core is essentially the attendance-area of the old Foster School that was converted to a magnet school as part of the District’s desegregation plan in 1967; it was closed altogether in 1979. In September the District’s New School Committee recommended that the District establish a K-8 school in the central core.
“I implore you to revisit our Committee’s recommendations and not compromise on what our Committee felt was the most important factor in reaching our recommendation – and that was social justice,” said Susan Hope Engel, a member of the New School Committee and former District 65 parent.
She continued, “Evanston values its neighborhood schools, yet for decades the Fifth Ward has done without. Evanston values its diversity. Yet, for decades the children of the Fifth Ward have been bused to virtually every school in the District to help provide that diversity. It’s time to make this right and give families in the central core the same privileges and rights as the rest of the District.”
Many persons spoke about the importance of a neighborhood school to build community, the disproportionate burden of busing borne by students in the central core, and the lack of equity.
Peter Braithwaite, an alderman and District 65 parent, said, “One of the unique things about this town is we’re on the cutting edge in a lot of different areas, with the exception of when it comes to our kids and how we treat them. It’s a very emotional issue just as I stand here, when I think about the fact that there are some kids in this District who are not treated fairly, mainly because of the color of their skin and the location of town that they are in. It’s a very emotional feeling when I drive by an area of Evanston and see kids waiting for a bus to get their day started, and when I drive in other areas of town I get to see parents walking their kids to school engaging in conversations. …There’s a huge disparity there for me.
“If you allow yourselves to use money as an excuse or the fact that you don’t hear from enough parents that look like me, then shame on all of us.”
Darlyn Johnson said, “You should not have a neighborhood school for every neighborhood, except for one. You should not have one community pay the price for diversity in our schools. And you should not put the burden on one group of children. We cannot do this in our community and be proud of our school system.”
Jane Grover, an alderman and District 65 parent, said, “Most of the building of social capital in a school community happens at arrival and dismissal time … Parents of children who climb in and out of buses aren’t part of that social fabric in the same way. There are barriers to those parents’ participation in the school community, and I think a lot of it has to do with busing and distance.”
Many speakers addressed the concern that very few parents of children in the central core have turned out to support the new school. Gilo Logan said, “As an African American, quite honestly, I’m appalled at the lack of support and presence within our community, but I think that’s a reflection of the internalized racism, and the internalized oppression that we have internalized.” He added, “That’s not to condemn the entire African American community because again, just to use myself as an example, I had to work and that’s why I had not been present, so there’s other valid reasons.”
Other speakers offered explanations that parents are working, there are single moms, and some households may not be able to afford babysitting.
Many community members said the Board should not deny the new school because of cost. Dr. Logan said, “There’s talk about the cost of the school, but I don’t think we can put a dollar amount on the minds and the hearts and souls of children.”
Doria Johnson said, “This is not a financial decision. This is social justice and a moral issue.”
Dino Robinson said, “Instead of approaching this whole question with ‘Why is this cost prohibitive?’ you should start thinking about, ‘How can we get this done?’” He said many city and community groups do not start with the premise “We don’t have enough money or this is cost prohibitive, but it’s how can we get this done.”