Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected and updated to reflect that the new proposed STEAM school will be built on part of the current North Lawndale Community Academy campus.

David Green stood beside his mother on Monday as they protested the proposed closure of his elementary school, North Lawndale Community Academy. “Save our schools” and “Enough is enough” are two of the phrases the 12-year-old boy shouted through his mask.

“I grew up and went to this school since I was in pre-school,” Green said. He was in sixth grade when the COVID-19 pandemic forced students into remote learning last spring. Now in the seventh grade, he’s been anxious to get back in the classroom with his friends and teachers. However, with news about the possible closing of his school, he’s unsure if he’ll ever sit in the classroom with his friends again.

“Because of the quarantine, I haven’t been able to see my friends,” Green said. “Some of them may have to go to different schools next year if they close our school down.” 

In September, news surfaced that North Lawndale Community Academy, Crown Community Academy and Charles Sumner Math & Science Community Academy may be consolidating into a new STEAM school in the Lawndale community. According to Block Club Chicago, the proposed North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy is slated to be built on part of the current North Lawndale Community Academy campus at Douglas Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue.

The proposal was submitted on Nov. 2 to Chicago Public Schools (CPS) by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC), a group of local parents, teachers and community members. NLCCC spearheaded the North Lawndale STEAM Partnership Academy plan under the neighborhoods’ Quality of Life Plan, launched in 2018 to help improve key issues such as health, housing and public safety in the Lawndale neighborhood.

North Lawndale residents, parents, students and activists protesting outside of North Lawndale Community Academy on Nov. 9. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

Many North Lawndale residents, parents, students and activists are against the proposal. Although the STEAM school will be in the Lawndale community, Green’s mother, Brandy McMahan, said she doesn’t know what the enrollment process will be, or whether students from each school will be automatically transferred to the STEAM school.

Outside of North Lawndale Community Academy on Monday, McMahan shared how the pandemic has been tough on everyone within the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) ecosystem. With news of the closures, she believes she’s now at risk of losing her job at North Lawndale Community Academy, where she’s worked as the school-based program coordinator for seven years. According to Block Club Chicago, NLCCC’s plan includes retaining administrators, teachers and staff members from the three closing schools during the consolidation.

“New doesn’t always mean better,” said McMahan, 38.

“A lot of parents are not working. A lot of parents have lost their cars because they are not working,” McMahan said. “It’s safe and more convenient that our kids can walk across the street or around the corner to attend school.”

James Lofton, 40, also grew up in North Lawndale. He spoke outside the school on Monday during a press conference held by North Lawndale Parent and Community Coalition (NLPCC). His family has a long legacy at the school: he graduated in 1995, his parents graduated in the 1970s and now his five-year-old son is in the kindergarten class.

James Lofton, 40, is an alum of North Lawndale Community Academy. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

“The gang violence could be worse in other neighborhoods,” Lofton said. In protest of the consolidation, he doesn’t plan on sending to the new STEAM school, even though it will be built on part of his son’s school campus.

However, for students at the other closing schools, the commute will change. The walking distance between the proposed STEAM location and Crown Community Academy is about a mile. And the walking distance between the proposed STEAM location and Charles Sumner Math & Science Community Academy is just shy of two miles.

As a resident of North Lawndale, Lofton said the consolidation is more disinvestment in the community.

“During COVID-19, right now, we can’t stand for this city to do anything more to our community but give us what we need,” Lofton said. “And we need our schools for our kids and so that parents can go to work.” 

Back in February 2019, when Lori Lightfoot was a Chicago mayoral candidate, she said former Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed Black and Brown neighborhoods when he closed 50 CPS schools during his term. 

In an interview with The TRiiBE back then, Lightfoot explained that sudden school closures tell communities that they are “not worth investing in.” She said respectful conversations with parents, teachers and other stakeholders are needed before making decisions about the future of a neighborhood school. 

NLPCC issued a press release on Nov. 8, that the group had successfully pushed CPS to extend the community input process for determining the proposal. They’ve collected more than 600 petition signatures and have been in talks with more than 150 parents in the last three weeks. However, their efforts seem to be unseen and unheard.

The press release said: “It is clear that the majority of North Lawndale families had yet to hear about the closures or the proposed plan.”

Outside North Lawndale Community Academy on Monday, residents in the street and speakers at the podium challenged Mayor Lightfoot, asking “What happened to your equity, Lightfoot?”

North Lawndale residents, parents, students and activists protesting outside of North Lawndale Community Academy on Nov. 9. Photo by Alexander Gouletas // The TRiiBE

When Lightfoot was running for office, she said she’d temporarily stop school closings, but did not specify for how long. Now, CPS has said that the three schools are grossly under-enrolled and using up all the resources. According to WBEZ, this would be the first school closing under the Lightfoot administration if CPS adopts the proposal. 

Sonny Parker, father of NBA star Jabari Parker, said he grew up in North Lawndale and graduated from Crown Community Academy, one of the three schools in the closure proposal. Parker said Black youth in Chicago are already traumatized by community violence, and taking away their schools won’t help. 

“They are already going through a lot as it is,” Parker said, referencing the 47% uptick in Chicago violence this summer. “To uproot kids, and put them in another neighborhood, another environment, [it] is going to affect them in their growth and development.”

Parker recalled his time as a young person in North Lawndale and attending Crown Academy. He said that young people having a sense of community is important. 

“When I went to Crown, I walked to school with my friends and lived in my own community. And my teachers, they were from the community as well,” Parker said. “This is about tradition, heritage and ownership.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.