CHICAGO (NNPA) - Neighborhood and school rivalries have been going on in Chicago for decades, yet the Chicago Public Schools continue to break up boundaries by closing schools and mixing longtime rival students together, sometimes with deadly results. That's the assessment from dozens of community leaders, parents and students who say CPS officials have not listened to the community and African American kids are being put at risk.
The criticism of CPS policies has been going on for years and again was brought to the forefront after hundreds of people descended on Fenger High School, days after a brawl left one student dead, several others injured, and two students charged with murder. Four teenagers in all are charged with first degree murder for the beating death of Derrion Albert. The Fenger High School honor student was savagely beaten last week by a mob of people on the city's far South Side as he was on his way home and walked into the middle of a large fight. His funeral was held on Saturday.
Rev. Victory Grandberry is a member of Fenger's Local School Council. He and others are specifically blaming CPS administrators for creating the violent climate at Fenger. He said changing the status of what used to be Carver High School to a military academy has made the situation at Fenger chaotic. Grandberry said there are now about 1,300 students at Fenger and only 500 at Carver, which is operating well below its capacity, while Fenger is busting at the seams.
"This has been going on for some time," a frustrated Grandberry told reporters and added he received an anonymous text message that there would be more violence at the school in the days to come. "I've been on the LSC for eight years and violence within the school has always been a problem. The solution is instead of the Board of Education making Fenger a turnaround school, maybe they should meet with the community more and see what the needs are. The kids who live in Altgeld Gardens, send them to Carver."
Several people the Crusader spoke to agreed with Grandberry's suggestion. For nine years, Theodore Boone was a teacher at Carver Middle School, which served as the feeder school for Carver High. Now a teacher at Shoop Elementary, which is ironically blocks away from Fenger, Boone said he see a lot of his former students from Carver Middle attending Fenger and they always complain about how they are being harassed.
"In 2004 Carver became a military academy with a strict discipline structure and an application process to enter. Once they made that transfer, a lot of the kids who couldn't pass the exam to go to Carver Military, their feeder school became Fenger," Boone explained. "So now you have a discrepancy between neighborhoods. These kids have seen me numerous times and told me about the security risks they are facing. They said they are always getting jumped at 111th and Michigan or 111th and Wallace as they try to board the CTA bus to go home. Some of them couldn't even participate in sports or other activities after school due to the threat of gangs or fear of being jumped. If you're not going to let them attend Carver, it would have made more sense to send them to Corliss, which is closer."
Community activist Harold Davis doesn't believe the problems at Fenger will end any time soon. While there are beefed up police patrols in and around Fenger, Davis said the fact that a memorial to Albert was burned to the ground is an indication the fighting may not be over. He called for CPS officials to make some emergency changes to ensure students from Altgeld Gardens are protected. In order for the right changes to take place, people who understand neighborhood and gang allegiances must be consulted, Davis said.
"Decisions are being made without the input from people in the community and people who know the streets," Davis said. "They [CPS administrators] tried to do this when they closed Englewood. They were going to send those students to Robeson, but the community stood up and said they weren't going to have it because they knew the problems it would cause."
Schools CEO Ron Huberman has already put some changes in place. Students from Altgeld will now be picked up and bused into Fenger so they don't have to take public transportation and be at risk of being attacked on the streets. Huberman also said he will have to look at other enrollment options for Altgeld students who don't have the test scores to get into a magnet school like Gwendolyn Brooks, which geographically is the school closest to where they live. Those who criticize CPS officials said Huberman inherited this problem from former schools chiefs Arne Duncan and Paul Vallas, who for years flip-flopped schools under the blessings of Mayor Daley, despite community outcries of the potential damage.
Vashion Bullock is the brother of Eugene Riley, one of four teens charged with murder in Albert's death. In the days after the fight, he and his mother are speaking out about what caused the melee and how school officials have done nothing to quell the violence that has been happening at Fenger since the school year began a month ago. Still sporting external injuries of a swollen head, several bruises and lacerations, in addition to several facial fractures, Bullock told how he and other students from the Altgeld Gardens community have been targeted, harassed and threatened for the past four weeks. He said it all came to an ugly head with the melee.
"They [kids from the Roseland community] just don't want us to be there. That's what this is all about. It has nothing to do with gangs. This is a neighborhood thing." Bullock said. In fact Carver and Fenger have been rival schools for years, often fighting after sports contests, especially football games at Gately Stadium. Bullock said kids from Altgeld were being jumped coming and leaving school so they started traveling in large groups in order to protect themselves. In order for them to get to Fenger they had to take three different CTA buses, crossing a number of neighborhoods putting them in danger. Bullock said the problem began when people started throwing rocks at his brother's car. He said when Eugene got out to check his vehicle, that's when the fight began and it kept escalating in the minutes that passed.
Riley and Bullock's mother Sherry Smith sent her condolences to Albert's family. She also pulled Vashion out of Fenger early last week, fearing for her son's safety. Her son spent two days in the hospital being treated for his injuries, which includes a left eye that he may never be able to see out of again due to being hit in the head with an object. Smith admits Riley was there and involved in the fight along with Bullock, but said her sons were trying to protect each other after they were being attacked.
"How are these kids supposed to get an education when they can't even feel safe in the school?" Smith asked.
It's not just the boys that are a concern at Fenger. Recently, there was a group of girls fighting outside of the school, neighborhood residents told the Crusader. Even on the day of Albert's death, there was a shot fired outside of the school, Chicago police confirmed. Some say the shooting incident was related to the fight that ensued after school. Kenneth McAllister is a Fenger graduate and has children at the school. He had to transfer his son out of the school two weeks ago because he was being threatened. In April, another Fenger female student in front of the school slashed his daughter with a razor across her forehead. Because of the violence he now walks his daughter to and from school. He said police may not have been diligent enough given the fights that had been taking place in the prior weeks.
"Last week when I was out here you could see the large group of girls fighting with no police around," McAllister said. "The kids leave from here at the end of the school day in packs and there is no police or security presence. At the end of the last school year, there was a large police presence due to all the fights. But this year when school started again, there was hardly any police until this incident with Derrion."
School and neighborhood rivalries have been part of the public school culture in Chicago for decades. Middle-aged adults and even seniors can talk about the fights they had with rival schools. Davis said everyone who went to a public school in Chicago knows some of the basic rivalries that exist and how intense they can become.
"You can't mix Lindblom and Harper students. Kenwood and Hyde Park has a bitter history. Never have Simeon and Calumet together and Chicago Vocational and Bowen have never gotten along," Davis said. "If you wanna go West Side, Marshall and Westinghouse are rivals, in addition to Farragut and Manley as are Crane and Collins."
In September of 2005, CPS tried to mix Calumet and Chicago Vocational students just for a few days when the power went out at Chicago Vocational. A decision was made to send Vocational students over to Calumet for classes. On the first day there was one arrest and two students disciplined after a big fight broke out in the school cafeteria. Duncan and school officials tried to downplay the incident, but students said it was a major fight and several didn't return the following day when their parents refused to send them.
Davis works for the Amer-I-Can organization founded by NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown. The organization works with prison inmates and helps them upon release with their reintroduction into society by providing jobs and educational opportunities. Davis said CPS administrators lack common sense when it comes to knowing Chicago's street rules.
Davis asked, "Even at Cook County Jail or any other correctional institution in the state, they have sense enough to separate gang members or racial rivals, especially when it's time for them to eat. Why can't anyone at CPS figure that out?"