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Cassandra White-Robinson, a mother of two Fenger High School students who are suing Chicago Public Schools for the right to transfer, said  she would withdraw them from school immediately. She said that's the only way they will be safe.

CPS transfer offer to Fenger students not good enough, parent says

by Adam Wren
Dec 01, 2009

Chicago Public Schools agreed Tuesday to grant immediate transfers to a group of 10 Fenger High School students wanting to flee the school because of what they say are lingering safety concerns after the beating death of a 16-year-old student.

But the transfer offer, brokered behind closed doors at Dirksen Federal Courthouse by the schools’ and students’ attorneys, did little to quell the concerns of Cassandra White-Robinson, a mother of two Fenger students. She promised that she would withdraw Malcolm Robinson, 17, and Charles Robinson, 15, from Fenger starting tomorrow.

“My kids are coming out,” said White-Robinson, whose sons are among the plaintiffs, when she learned the agreement would still require them to make what she says is a perilous trek to school through the gang-carved streets of Roseland. “It’s over. As a mother, I’m killing my kids (by allowing them to make the commute).”

The district agreed to allow students to transfers to one of three schools: Morgan Park High School, Lincoln Park High School and Julian High School.

Students also have the option of applying to Carver Military Academy, where school officials have promised them an expedited admissions process, the students’ attorney, Christopher C. Cooper, said.

Cooper said that only the Fenger students listed as plaintiffs would be given the opportunity to transfer under Tuesday’s agreement

“There are many students who are in the predicament that my clients are in,” Cooper said. “There are many children who are afraid to attend Fenger High School. I think it would be helpful if Mayor Daley and Ron Huberman would sit down with me and sit down with community leaders to try to find ways of making going to school a safe endeavor.”

Cooper said the district’s concession was a success for his clients, but acknowledged it was a short-term fix.

“It’s a temporary solution, certainly,” Cooper said. “My clients want Carver to become their high school again. The main objective of this lawsuit was to force the city of Chicago to allow students who are afraid to attend Fenger to go to other high schools.”

But parents such as White-Robinson said the only acceptable option is for the district to open a neighborhood school within Carver and allow students from Altgeld to take classes there. That’s the only scenario, she said, that will allow her sons to avoid making what she said is the treacherous commute from Altgeld Gardens to Roseland.

“We want Carver,” White-Robinson said to Cooper, after he gave her news of the settlement in the court’s chambers. “You tell them to get ready to arrest me, because my kids are coming out.”

Cooper said he thinks he can get school officials to agree to open a neighborhood school within Carver, but that it will take time.

“We’re going to continue to ask,” he said.

It was not clear Tuesday why school officials confined their list of schools to which Fenger students could transfer to the three, or why only students listed as plaintiffs would be granted immediate transfers.

School officials did not respond to requests to central office staff seeking comment.

The district’s attorney, Susan O’Keefe, also declined to comment or speak about the agreement.

Because the deal was made at a settlement conference, it was not open to the public or the press, said U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman.

Earlier this month, 10 students filed the lawsuit against Chicago schools, saying their constitutional right to an education was being trampled because the district would not allow them to transfer after the beating death of 16-year-old Fenger student Derrion Albert on Sept. 24.

There has been an exodus of students from Fenger since Albert’s death. At least 100 students have transferred to other high schools in the last two months, school officials have said.

Of the 10 students who sued, one, Kermiria Wellington, 18, says she doesn’t want to transfer to another school, Cooper said, but says her personal safety is threatened at Fenger.

Cooper said he plans to amend the suit to argue only Wellington’s case later this month.

Parents and students say that what is a seemingly decades-old war among students from rival neighborhoods was reignited in 2006, when students from Altgeld Gardens, the public housing project, were reassigned to Fenger, after their neighborhood school, Carver, was transformed into a selective-enrollment military school.

The district recently announced plans to open a charter school near Altgeld Gardens, but that school isn’t expected to open until after this school year.

Chicago Public Schools’ O’Keefe and the students’ attorney, Cooper, agreed to appear again in court at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16, Cooper said. At that point, Cooper said he expects to address the lingering safety concerns of Fenger students such as Wellington.

“I want CPS to do a better job with security,” he said, adding that Fenger students have alleged that the extra security guards posted within the school after Albert’s death have failed to make the school any safer. Students have told Cooper that security guards don’t stop fights they witness.

The district has said it's already doing everything it can to increase security.

For now, White-Robinson said she doesn’t understand why the district won’t open a neighborhood school within Carver.

“CPS could have offered Carver,” she said. “These people are playing with kids’ lives.”