Hands Off Margo Crawford and
DePaul Univ. Alternative High School
Revolutionary Worker #966, July 19, 1998
DePaul University's Alternative High School in Chicago was set up two years ago to meet the demands of the Cabrini-Green community for a program to help young people to return to school and earn a high school diploma. Over 80 percent of public housing residents in the city don't have high school certificates. And this alternative school has been providing an education for a number of youth from the Cabrini-Green housing project, including many young mothers. The school is funded by the Chicago Public Schools and administered by DePaul University and has approved funding through 2002.
On June 24, Margo Crawford, the principal of DePaul University Alternative High, was arrested for trespassing inside the building and the school was closed down.
When Ms. Crawford demanded a legal written notice of the school's closure she was carried out of the school in her own office chair and put in a paddy wagon. This respected Black educator, who has been teaching for 30 years, was locked up for 16 hours despite the fact that she had never been arrested before this. Soon after she was arrested, DePaul University fired her. At least one member of the board that is supposed to have the power to make all major decisions governing the school wasn't even contacted. Cora Moore, the President of the Local Advisory Council (the organization that represents the residents of public housing) said, "I was never contacted about closing the school or firing Margo Crawford. I think it's a shame and a disgrace." Margo Crawford has never been fired from a job in her life. In fact, she is well known and admired in the Chicago educational community for developing many new and innovative programs designed to bring educational opportunities to those who are most deprived of a good education.
Margo Crawford is also respected by the people of Cabrini-Green, who know her as someone who has gone deep into her own pocket to pay for expenses for the school when budgeted funds didn't show up. Students, under Ms. Crawford's direction, were encouraged to bring their young children to the classroom when day-care funds were unavailable. She is also well known for taking a clear cut stand against the so-called "redevelopment" of Cabrini Green, which so far has led to the demolishing of 660 units of low-income housing--in a city where there is a desperate need for housing poor people can afford.
For months the authorities tried to close down the 500-502 building in Cabrini-Green, deliberately refusing to do repairs. This past winter, Margo Crawford worked with other volunteers to make repairs on the building, even though she knew this might get her in trouble with the Chicago Public Schools--which funded the alternative school and whose head had publicly called for closing the 500-502 building.
The authorities had set a deadline of January 15 for closure of the building. But because people resisted, the city wasn't able to actually close the building down until June. Students had told Margo Crawford that they were afraid to go back to their own buildings in Cabrini because the Chicago police were ransacking the buildings, saying they were looking for a suspect. Ms. Crawford and another member of her staff, Nehemiah Russell, walked over to the building and witnessed over 60 police, with shotguns and rifles locked and loaded, terrorizing a building full of women and children--two days after the police had already arrested a suspect. Ms. Crawford and Dr. Russell went on a local Black talk radio show to expose this brutality to the whole community.
Margo and some of her staff have also participated in protests to demand jobs for the youth at local construction sites. (The unemployment rate among youth in Cabrini-Green is over 60 percent!)
This kind of activism has made Margo Crawford a well known and respected figure among the people of Cabrini-Green, particularly the youth. And the people in Cabrini-Green considered the DePaul Alternative High School very important. This is why there was an immediate and broad response after Margo Crawford was fired and the school was closed down. There have been two major protests demanding that Ms. Crawford be rehired, the trespassing charges dropped and the school be reopened. At one protest, 200 youth from Cabrini-Green came out in a visible sign of outrage at these attacks. Margo Crawford has reported that she has received numerous messages of support from teachers and principals in the Chicago area.
The staff and the students have restarted the school outside the building from which they were expelled. The first session was held on July 6 and was attended by 16 students and 8 of their children. The plan here is to prevent, as much as possible, the authorities from disrupting the education of the students. It is also a defiant protest. One student said, "They're being unfair to us. I've been out of school 10 years. I've got four kids. And I'm going to fight this out."
The students were really concerned that they might lose their chance to get a high school diploma--which they consider crucial if they are to have any hope of getting a job they and their children can survive on. They know they are going to be pushed off welfare. And they know many people who can't make ends meet on the minimum wage jobs (with no health insurance) that people are being forced to take. The people in the Cabrini-Green housing project have been subjected to horrible living conditions, evictions, building demolitions, and police brutality. People in Cabrini feel that, just because they are poor and Black, they're constantly under siege from the powers-that-be. And the people here really respect Margo Crawford for standing with them in the fight against all the attacks coming down.
In order to get the news of the fight out to the broader community, a diverse group of supporters has called four different press conferences. Cora Moore (President of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Board), Reverend Paul Jakes (Chicago Coalition to Stop Police Brutality), Jican (Black Panther Party) and Bill "AK" Small (member of the RCYB who with another member is facing one year in jail for protesting the "redevelopment" plans at a meeting in February) are among the people who have taken a stand at these press conferences. The Chicago Tribune quoted Bill "AK" Small saying, "We're out here to demand that the charges against Margo Crawford be dropped and the alternative high school be reopened."
The protests, the reopening of the school by the people locked out and the press conferences have stung the authorities. One result has been some public infighting that has exposed some of the lies being run out by the authorities. For example, Tom Coffey from DePaul University (the administrator of the alternative school) told the Black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, "DePaul did not close the school. It is closed for the summer." Paul Vallas, head of the Chicago Public Schools (which funds the alternative school) directly contradicted this in the same newspaper when he said: "DePaul has been trying to close the school down, they shouldn't hide the fact. They have closed the school and they should have the guts to say that."
Vallas is already facing a lot of anger from people because of plans for closing the Near North High School, where the alternative high school was located. This Spring, after persistent rumors of the imminent shutdown of the school, students, parents and teachers organized a protest rally. Wesley Robinson, a Near North High School junior told StreetWise newspaper (sold by homeless people), "They only started talking about tearing the school down after they built those townhouses across the street."
Right across the street from Near North High School $300,000 townhouses have gone up in the last couple of years. In a moment of candor one townhouse resident here told an RW reporter that they were promised by developers that the value of these properties would skyrocket once Cabrini-Green is "redeveloped" and Near North High School is closed down. In other words, an important aspect of the "redevelopment" equation in this area is: The people of Cabrini-Green get their homes and schools torn down so that well-off professionals can move into expensive townhouses.
People like Margo Crawford who have given their hearts, resources and minds to the struggle of the people of Cabrini-Green are cherished by the people. And the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade has been spreading the fight to reopen the school and to "watch the back" of educators like Margo Crawford. Margo Crawford's next court date is July 15 and various actions are being planned to get the state to drop the charges. Messages of support and donations for legal expenses and expenses needed to keep the DePaul Alternative High School open can be sent to: Al Carter Youth Foundation, 880 N. Hudson, Chicago, IL 60610.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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