Looming closure sends CCH to Chicago’s Overton Elementary

“This school’s been our backbone,” said Robin Coleman, a parent at the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) Overton Elementary.

Ms. Coleman and her daughter have been in unstable living situations for the past two years. The stability and community at Overton, 221 E. 49th St., have been one of the positive constants for her family through this difficult period.

Overton is one of 53 elementary schools that CPS has proposed to merge into 55 other grade schools next fall. Overton has a large enrollment of homeless students, with almost one in four children (24%) who are homeless. 

As part of its outreach initiative, the CCH Education Committee has been sending its advocates – many of them from families that are homeless or recently homeless – to offer outreach to families at CPS schools with significant homeless enrollment.

The Education Committee’s goals are to educate families, students, and faculty about the rights of a homeless student as well as identify barriers that affect student access to education.

School closures particularly impact homeless students, where the relationships, routine, and structure of the school day are that much more important. And while CPS has identified 4% of its citywide enrollment as homeless, the proposed closure/merger of 108 elementary schools would impact more than 35,500 students,  8.5% of them homeless, according to a recent CCH study analyzing enrollments at schools proposed for closure and turnaround.

The difficulty in transitioning a student from one school to another has been documented by the CCH Law Project, which focuses its legal aid in assisting homeless students and youth. These young clients comprised 96% of the Law Project’s 252 cases in 2012. Over the years, CCH attorneys have assisted homeless families whose children were displaced by school closures that began when Renaissance 2010 was launched in 2004.

“We have seen students lost in the process, as well as students being at risk of increased violence. Even for a closure process conducted on a much smaller scale, CPS receiving schools have not been adequately prepared for the arrival of many new students,” said Associate Law Director Patricia Nix-Hodes.

“Students have arrived to new schools without enough desks, books or staff. School records have failed to arrive in a timely manner. Adequate transportation has not been provided to get students to the new school.”

Connections, relationships, and support systems are the foundation for homeless students to start building stable lives, added Ms. Nix-Hodes.

“My daughter’s in 5th grade,” said Ms. Coleman. “She’s been here since preschool. My grandmother went to Overton, my daughter has six cousins here. And she’s learned so much, she’s in the 90th percentile in math and reading. Her teachers love her and she loves her teachers.”

The Education Committee continues community outreach, including Friday’s outreach at Attucks School. Attucks is proposed to undergo its second merger in five years. It has 131 homeless children at its 51st & State campus. CPS proposes that over a two-year period Attucks be merged into Beethoven, a school at 25 W. 47th St. that already has 74 homeless pupils. Combined, the schools would be expected to eventually enroll more than 200 homeless pupils, making up almost one-third of total enrollment.

– Jimmy Lacy, Media Volunteer