By AARON GETTINGER
Representatives from Southside Together Organized for Power (STOP) and Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside of Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., alleging Chicago Public Schools was in discussions to close the school and sell the facility to real estate developers.
The organizers said an unnamed whistleblower tipped them off.
“We have no reason to believe that this person would seek us out to spread gossip,” said KOCO Executive Director Jawanza Malone. “What we have is someone whose heartstrings have been pulled and is conflicted. We have someone who wants to do a job, wants to make a living, wants to do what it is that they’ve been trained to do—but feels like what he is being asked to do is morally wrong.”
Malone asked, “How can we say we are here to protect our children when our children are being sacrificed in the name of profit?
He said, “Unfortunately, it falls right in line with what the mayor of this city has been doing since he was first elected to office.”
Periodically chanting, “What do we want? A CBA! When do we want it? Now!” and sheltered by a tarp from the late-winter precipitation, those in attendance reflected elements of this community’s unease with development coming alongside the planned Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, which is across the street from the school.
Princella Lee, an alumnus of Hyde Park High School, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to confirm or deny the unnamed source, sign a community benefits agreement, protect the school from being closed or demolished and ensure its students get the resources they need. Clutching a 1991 yearbook, she additionally called for a “democratically elected school board made up of people who are impacted by these decisions … not seven handpicked people with the mayor’s self-interest at heart.”
Gabriel Piemonte, a volunteer for the school, candidate for 5th ward alderman and former Herald editor, said those who called the presser were “shocked at this news that there is internal speculation at CPS about what this [building] would be worth.” He reiterated, “This is really the proof that we need to indicate that a community benefits agreement is essential.”
Malone confirmed that the groups had filed Freedom of Information Act requests in 2017, yesterday and today. He named CPS as one of the agencies from which information has been sought but refused to name others, though he promised to do so when the requests were answered. He claimed that information received from one agency has not squared with the information received from another agency.
When reached for comment, a CPS spokeswoman categorically denied the groups’ claims. At an appearance at the City Club of Chicago today, CPS CEO Janice Jackson refuted the allegations, saying, “That couldn’t be further from the truth. You are talking to a proud Hyde Park graduate. Hyde Park isn’t going anywhere. Period.”
Malone said he appreciated Jackson’s comments but hoped she verified her facts before speaking.
“We are in a city where, repeatedly, we are told one thing and the exact opposite happens,” Malone said. “What we are asking the mayor of this city to do [is] to answer for what is out here on the street. He needs to tell us if these rumors are not true and provide something.”