Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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District 65 School Board votes to close Dr. Bessie Rhodes School

Shannon Tyler/The Daily Northwestern
About 40 people filled the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center, holding signs for the board meeting.

Parents and children holding signs that read “Yo Soy Bessie Rhodes” and “Save Bessie Rhodes” walked out of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education meeting, some in tears, after the board voted 5-2 to close the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies after the 2025-2026 school year Monday night. 

“When was the last time that you’ve seen children beg you to keep their school open? I don’t think that’s ever happened. But I’ll tell you what, there’s always a rainbow after the rain. People vote, people vote,” parent Lionel Gentle shouted to the board members as he left. 

The meeting was the final discussion and vote of the closure of the school that houses the Two-Way Immersion program — the district’s only schoolwide K-8 bilingual education magnet program. The school also serves the highest percentages of students of color, low-income students and English learners among all District 65 schools. 

The closure of Bessie Rhodes was tied with discussions of opening a new 5th Ward school over two years ago, with promises of keeping the program and expanding it to other schools. The district originally planned to house the K-8 TWI program in the new 5th Ward neighborhood school. 

However, after District 65 Superintendent Angel Turner announced in October that the planned school was $25 million over budget, the board approved a smaller K-5 building with a TWI program, leaving the K-8 TWI model in limbo once Bessie Rhodes closes.

Just before the vote took place, Board President Sergio Hernandez, who voted in favor, reiterated his stance stating they were voting on “closing a physical building,” not the closing of the program. 

Hernandez, board Vice President Mya Wilkins and member Soo La Kim, all stated that their reason for voting in favor of closing the school is ingrained in their priority of opening the 5th Ward school and ensuring all students have a walkable neighborhood. 

Hernandez also said he opts for a dual language program option districtwide, instead of a wall-to-wall program, where every student learns Spanish and English together in one building from bilingual teachers. Currently, five other District 65 elementary schools offer Two-Way Immersion classrooms. 

“I want to bring Dual language from wall-to-wall and provide it across the school district and across because that is an equitable way to reach our most marginalized populations, which has not been an option before,” Hernandez said. 

But, parents say the wall-to-wall program is the ideal program for both English as Second Language students and students interested in learning Spanish. The Bessie Rhodes program is the “rare, idealistic thing,” parent Peter Schenck said, creating a welcoming environment for students learning both languages together. 

“We were promised a place in the 5th Ward school, and that promise was rescinded,” Schenck told The Daily. “So when we hear them promise that there’s going to be more TWI strands in the district, one, that’s not the same and two, we are also lacking in trust at this point because what we were promised isn’t being delivered.” 

Before the meeting parents and students gathered to eat tamales, listen to music and rally support to keep Bessie Rhodes open. (Shannon Tyler)

During public comment, parents spoke in Spanish and in English referencing a letter the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights sent to the board before the meeting, urging it reconsider the closure and its potential consequences. 

The letter, which echoed the parents’ previous demands, stated the district should not vote on a closure until a full assessment of the impacts and implications has been completed.

The CLCCR cited research that found the Chicago Public School mass closures in 2013, caused largely by budgetary considerations, actually did not achieve the anticipated cost savings and inflicted measurable harm on students of color. 

“Research, not opinions, by the University of Chicago confirms that the closure of schools inflicts harm on marginalized students, the letter affirms every single point Bessie Rhodes parents have been making for the last nine months, but up until now, has been ignored and undermined by District 65 leadership,” parent Aidé Acosta said during public comment. 

Board member Omar Salem, one of two who voted no, advocated to ensure the Bessie Rhodes community and the possibility of a wall-to-wall program still continued to be in the conversations of the Student Assignment Plan. 

Kim, who voted in favor, said the future of Bessie Rhodes and the new 5th Ward school are “deeply intertwined,” noting that there is a large overlap in the students who live in the 5th Ward and attend Bessie Rhodes. But, Salem disagreed, which is what urged him to vote no. 

“I am so committed to the 5th Ward school, I still think the 5th Ward school and Bessie Rhodes don’t need to be intertwined,” Salem said. 

At its August meeting, the school board will outline plans for further consolidations of schools and the launch of a middle school dual language program, according to district staff. 

While mourning the loss of their school, Acosta said she and others promise to keep fighting the board’s decision through every avenue possible. 

“We are prepared to see this through,” Acosta said.

Email: [email protected]

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Related Stories: 

Bessie Rhodes parents demand dialogue with District 65 administrators about planned school closure

‘Yo soy Bessie Rhodes’: Parents demand District 65 keep K-8 bilingual school open

District 65 Board to vote on resolution on potential Bessie Rhodes closure

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