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TROUBLES BOIL OVER IN CHICAGO HIGH SCHOOL: Infusion of New Students Leads to Gang Warfare and Violence in the Hallways

“When you go to somewhere new, like to a party, the hostess should make you feel comfortable and welcome,” Camille Vargas

An article in the May 8 Chicago Tribune profiles the difficulties that students have encountered as Chicago officials began shutting down low-performing neighborhood schools and moving students to nearby campuses as part of Renaissance 2010 reforms. The article provides an in-depth look at Clemente High School and shows examples of some of the turbulence that accompanies the usual difficulties in reforming high schools.

The atmosphere at Clemente High School, which is largely Latino, became especially difficult when the city began phasing out Austin High School, which is largely African American, and is sending those students to Clemente. Even before students from Austin arrived at Clemente, tensions were high between the Mexican and Puerto Rican students. However, in early October, gang warfare erupted. According to the article, “School officials, security guards, and students say that the Gangster Disciples from Austin warred with the Latino Vice Lords and Lovers for control of the school. Students were jumped outside the school as they exited for fire drills. Fistfights broke out in the hallways.”

The article notes that the problems at Clemente mirror the rest of the school system where more than 85% of the system’s African-American students attend schools that are overwhelmingly African American, and 80% of Latino students go to schools that are mainly Latino.

“When you go to somewhere new, like to a party, the hostess should make you feel comfortable and welcome,” Camille Vargas, a junior of Puerto Rican and African-American descent told the Tribune. “But the Austin kids just came here and the administration didn’t tell us they were coming, and nobody made them feel welcome. Everybody just left it up to us to figure out how to get along. Maybe that was a mistake.”

In the article, David Pickens, who oversees school closings for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), agreed that the district could have done a better job helping high schools with the transitions, but said CPS was better prepared for next year. The district has set aside $1 million to assist schools absorbing new students and plans to cap the number of transfers it will allow.

The complete article is available at,1,7557067.story.

More information on Renaissance 2010 is available at

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