Are overlaps between school closings and youth violence a coincidence?

Just blocks from Carter's Barbershop in North Lawndale where The Chicago Reporter sets up camp for its weekly radio show are two schools on the turnaround and closure list voted on by the Chicago Board of Education last month.

Thomas Herzl Elementary School, at 3711 W. Douglas Blvd., is slated for turnaround next year, and Julia Lathrop Elementary School, at 1440 S. Christiana Ave., will be closed.

These schools aren't too different from most of the 17 schools on Chicago Public School's list of low-performing schools slated for an overhaul: They're heavily low-income, and most students are of one race. At Herzl, for example, 97.9 percent of the students come from households reporting income below the poverty line, and 98.3 percent are black.

But there's another unifying, and telling, factor to all the schools on the closure and turnaround list: They are situated in majority black and brown neighborhoods in the city. Check out this map by Vocalo's Sarah Lu to see the divide.

Meanwhile, these same neighborhoods see record amounts of youth violence. Twenty-two communities on Chicago's South, Southwest and West sides--where the school turnarounds and closures are based--saw nearly 80 percent of the city's youth homicides, according to a recent Reporter investigation.

Coincidence? Research and reporting on the subject says probably not. Since 2005, thousands of students have been sent to schools outside their neighborhoods following school closures under Renaissance 2010, the education reform program launched by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

For some of these students, their new reality isn't only a daily commute, but a ride across gang lines and into neighborhoods where they may not be entirely welcome.

The average number of students shot prior to the start of Renaissance 2010 fell between 10 and 15 during a school year, found The Huffington Post, but this number escalated to 211 shootings in the 2007-2008 school year. In the 2009-2010 school year, the Reporter found that there were 218 student shootings.

"You have a trail of blood and tears ever since they launched" Renaissance 2010, Tio Hardiman, director of the anti-violence organization CeaseFire Illinois, told NBC in 2009. "There's a history of violence associated with moving kids from one area to another."

The beating death of Derrion Albert at the hands of a group of youth from Christian Fenger Academy High School was traced to tension between students from Fenger and students from Altgeld Gardens who were transferred to Fenger after their school became a military academy.

On this week's Barbershop Show, we'll look at the connections between school closures and school shootings with Sarah Karp from Catalyst Chicago; Carlos Ortiz, a photographer working on a documentary project about youth violence called Too Young to Die, and the voices of some of the young people most affected by the violence.

We'd love to hear your musings, queries and concerns on the issue to help inform our discussion Friday at noon at 89.5 FM. To weigh in, comment below, or tweet us @ChicagoReporter.

© Community Renewal Society 2012


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  • This story so obviously biased. of course most of these school closings and turnarounds are located in african american latino communities - this is where the majority of bad schools are located what other schools are you going to close or turn around other than schools that are failing? The point of doing so is to get rid of that schools aren't helping students. what don't you understand about that? stop to sending these bad school and putting out false information about what is really going on. it's time that we started doing the right things for all of these poor african american kids that are n't being served by their schools. Shame on you.

  • The causal relationship that many people have been trying to establish between youth violence/homicides and school closings simply does not exist. Both phenomena, youth violence and school closings, are manifestations of bigger problems in our City. Much fiction is bandied about in relation to youth violence and school closings, but there are stark facts that are not being addressed. Fact is that most parents of school age kids in violent communities do whatever they can to ensure that their children attend schools outside of their neighborhood. Fact is that, with very few exceptions, student shooting victims, who attend schools outside of their community, aren't being shot near the schools they are attending, or on the routes to-from school, but rather in the neighborhood where they live, and long after the school day is done. Fact is that Friday night is the most dangerous time of all for school age kids and young adults in violent communities. Everyone, but particularly parents, must face the facts and take action to save your children. Don't get sidetracked by this school closing diversion promoted by people wedded to the status quo.

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