Mothers, CPS come to agreement on ‘La Casita’

By Darryl Holliday

Mothers of students attending Pilsen’s Whittier Dual Language School and Chicago Public Schools officials reached an agreement in the first of several meetings that will determine the future of the much debated Whittier school’s field house, 1900 W. 23rd St.

Both groups came together Oct. 20, along with aldermen and state representatives, to resolve the occupation of the one-story field house. The group also discussed plans for the installment of a library for Whittier, one of 160 Chicago schools without an on-site library for students, according to Ron Huberman, CEO of CPS.

“I think we have an agreement in concept across these bases that we’re going to be working through,” Huberman said at a press conference on Oct. 20. “From a conceptual perspective, I think we’re getting very close to being fully on the same page of what needs to happen.”

As previously reported in the Chronicle on Sept. 27, mothers of Whittier students and scores of community members have occupied the field house for 36 days, despite CPS declaring the building unsafe due to structural violations.

Demolition of the building was put on hold because of the community protest, which called for a library to be installed on Whittier’s premises as well as for tax increment financing funds geared toward its demolition to instead be used for its renovation into a community center.

Both of these demands have largely been met as the groups settle on where the library will be constructed and proceed with plans to renovate the field house.

According to Huberman, CPS will conduct an assessment of the structure over the course of the next month in order to bring the field house to compliance, during which time negotiations will continue.

“We’re here for the long haul. We recognize this is a first step—it’s a great first step,” said Carolina Gaete, activist and Whittier mom. “This is what we need: dialogue.”

Approximately $1.3 million in TIF funds previously allocated for the building’s demolition will be put toward restoring the structure to a state of good repair, said Huberman, along with $200,000 that Representative Edward Acevedo will work to obtain for its renovation.

Under the new agreement, the Whittier mothers will be able to lease the property for $1 per year as they work toward incorporating as a nonprofit in order to manage the building.

In the meantime, children will be prohibited from entering the field house and a limited, to-be-determined number of adults will be able to occupy the building at any given time.

The parents say they will continue to occupy the field house, in compliance with the new rules, until a final agreement is reached.

Though the Whittier moms disagreed with Huberman about whether such a resolution would have been possible without their occupation of the field house and protests, both parties agreed they would do what’s in the best interest of Whittier school children, citing dialogue as a large part of the solution.

During the press conference, Huberman denied that he was worried about setting a precedent for other groups demanding change in their schools.

“This discussion has been going on for a very long time,” Huberman said. “… This is not a new conversation that’s been going on, this is an ongoing dialogue about what makes the most sense and we welcome any school community, if they want to bring forth issues and want to discuss what makes the most sense for

their communities.”

The Illinois Board of Education and CPS were widely criticized earlier in the month when they turned off the gas in the field house, leaving supporters without heat for several days during 40 degree weather. The decision was overturned when city aldermen unanimously mandated gas immediately be turned back on as a matter of safety for residents.

According to Alderman Daniel Solís (25th Ward), a “memorandum of understanding” is expected from the current discussions as questions of where to locate the

library continue.

A meeting is scheduled for the next CPS board assembly on Oct. 27, in which the Whittier parents are calling for a guarantee of the agreed upon terms in writing.