Several schools closing during NATO convention

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, May 20, 2012

Despite the road closures and businesses closing in the south loop area, Old St. Mary's Parish, 1500 S. Michigan Ave., will remain open throughout Nato weekend. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

The May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago will mean a day or two away from school — but not necessarily days off — for students at several downtown Catholic schools. Parishes in the area will stay open but DePaul university’s downtown campus will close.

St. Ignatius High School, 1076 W. Roosevelt Road; both campuses of Frances Xavier Warde School, 120 S. Des Plaines St. and 720 N. State St.; and Old St. Mary’s School, 1474 S. Michigan Ave., were to be closed both May 18 and May 21. St. Therese School, 247 W. 23rd St., was already scheduled for a professional development day on May 18 — something that will now be done remotely — and will close on May 21.

The summit, which includes the leaders of the 28 NATO countries as well as other world leaders, will take place at McCormick Place convention center along the lakefront. Thousands of protestors are also expected to make their way to Chicago, and the resulting demonstrations and security measures will likely make getting around the downtown area and South Loop a nightmare.

St. Therese Principal Phyllis Cavallone-Jurek said the school would close because it would be too difficult for students and staff to get there. Some staff had already received parking tickets on May 15 as parking restrictions went into effect.

St. Therese already had several extra days built into the school year, so students will not need to make up the unexpected day off, she said.

At Old St. Mary’s, the school originally planned to be open on May 18 and close May 21, but Principal Mary Lee Calihan changed plans three days earlier after hearing that a local newscaster had announced the school would be closed both days.

“They made the decision for me,” Calihan said.

More seriously, she said, “we’re on the path of everything happening between Grant Park and Mc- Cormick Place.”

That means that, at best, it will be difficult for parents and teachers to get to the school because of the security measures in place and road closures in the surrounding area, she said. Even peaceful protests could completely cut off access, not only for parents and staff but for emergency vehicles.

The school, which started with preschool in 2004 and has added grades each year since, now has 260 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, but 100 of them are under the age of 5.

“What parent wants their child in a situation like that?” asked Calihan, who was at St. Francis Xavier Warde School’s Old St. Pat’s Campus during the May 1, 2006 immigration protest. While that march was peaceful, students and staff were in the school until late that evening as parents struggled to make their way there to pick their children up.

‘Hope for the best’

“School administrators have to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.

Several school parents who work in law enforcement advised Calihan to close the building during the summit.

To avoid losing a day of instruction, teachers at all levels prepared packets of material, generally with a significant online component, for students to complete at home.

“Our students and families are pretty tech-savvy, so most of them will be able to do that,” Calihan said.

Meanwhile, teachers in the upper grades have been incorporating lessons about NATO and about the history of protests in their classes, Calihan said.

“Since the time of Christ, people have been protesting,” she said. “What’s a useful form of protest? What have people done? What has been effective?”

The parish will stay open for Masses despite the added commotion. The general thought is that parishioners are used to enduring Bears fans during football season and the Chicago Marathon in October, which goes right past the church door, so they are up for the NATO crowds.

Ignatius going remote

St. Ignatius High School, which draws students from throughout the metropolitan area, put plans in place months ago to allow remote learning if it seemed to be necessary, according to Principal Catherine Karl.

Students who take Metra commuter trains to school would have been affected at the very least by restrictions that will forbid backpacks or other large bags.

One school that was planning to stay open was Santa Lucia, 3017 S. Wells St., just a bit further from Mc- Cormick Place than St. Therese.

Principal Geraldine Malatea said she had met with principals from other Bridgeport neighborhood schools and they had reviewed their crisis plans. Santa Lucia offers afterschool care until 6 p.m., Malatea said, if parents are running late because of the street closures.

“I personally am prepared to wait with any child whose parents are later than that,” she said.

DePaul University was to close its Loop campus, at State Street and Jackson Boulevard, from May 18- 21, with only essential building employees required to come in. Faculty members were advised to make alternative arrangements for classes, either relocating to the Lincoln Park Campus, rescheduling for another day, or offering remote learning opportunities such as real-time on-line classes or prepared assignments that could be completed off-site.

While schools are closing, most downtown area parishes will remain open for Sunday Mass.

Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, which is just across the Stevenson Expressway from McCormick Center, will also be affected, but hospital administrators could not be reached to discuss their plans. Staff at the archdiocesan pastoral centers, Archbishop Quigley Center, 835 N. Rush St.; and Cardinal Meyer Center, 3525 S. Lake Park Ave.; were told they didn’t have to report to work on May 21.