Evanston/Skokie D65 board votes to close Bessie Rhodes school in 2026

Evanston/Skokie D65 board votes to close Bessie Rhodes school in 2026

A 5-2 vote sealed the fate of the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies Monday night after the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education voted to close the district’s lone fully bilingual school.

Students cried as their parents guided them out of the room following the vote, chastising the board on their way out, with some saying, “We’re not done.”

“The vote will change everything,” Bessie Rhodes parent Lionel Gentle said. “Shame on you, because who’s going to suffer? These kids at Bessie Rhodes.”

The school, a kindergarten through eighth grade magnet school, is operated by a bilingual staff and saw native English- and native Spanish-speaking students taught side by side in both languages. Those looking to keep the school open argued Spanish-speaking families wouldn’t be served by other schools in the same way they are at Bessie Rhodes. They also argued that closing the only fully bilingual school in the district isn’t the best look for an already struggling school district.

Attendees of the June 10 meeting of the Evanston/Skokie District 65 Board of Education hold up signs calling for the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies to remain open. (Alex Hulvalchick/Chicago Tribune)

The vote marked the end of a months-long process that saw Bessie Rhodes families attend three public hearings to plead their case. Aide Acosta, a Bessie Rhodes parent and leader in the movement to save the school, believes the board came in with the decision made and hosted the hearings as a formality.

“There’s a lot of unknowns should the school close since it will create a lot of instability,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Board Members Donna Wang Su and Omar Salem voted against the closure, stating they wanted to see future plans for Bessie Rhodes students further fleshed out and discussions of possibly including another kindergarten through eighth grade Two Way Immersion school outlined directly in the district’s future planning. Salem argued if a fully-bilingual school is wanted by families as opposed to having programs housed at other schools in the district, it should be considered.

“I don’t know if Bessie Rhodes has been given the right tools to be successful,” Wang Su said.

Despite voting in favor of the closure, Board Member Joe Halipern said the district broke a social contract with Bessie Rhodes parents who were promised their children would get a fully immersive kindergarten through eighth grade dual language education, and said more time needs to be spent on the district’s big picture plans.

Board President Sergio Hernandez, the board’s first Latino president, pushed back, saying TWI programs at other D65 schools, as well as the coming middle school dual language programming, will be sufficient. He argued the district is closing a building but not ending the programming and offering dual language programming districtwide will be the best way to reach all marginalized populations where they are.

Acosta said the strands of TWI are, “good enough I suppose,” but segregating those children within other schools is not in their best interest and prevents the formation of vibrant, cultural communities like the Bessie Rhodes community.

During public comment, families of Bessie Rhodes read – in both Spanish and English – a letter sent to the board by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The letter urged the board to hold off on the vote until a race equity impact assessment to study the impacts of closing Bessie Rhodes on the school’s largely minority population can be completed. It also stated evidence that school closures don’t always equate to estimated cost savings, contrary to one of the district’s reasons behind closing the school.

Superintendent Angel Turner stated at previous public hearings on the matter that the district is not financially able to support 19 schools once the new 5th Ward School is completed for the 2026 school year. With the cost of the new school, along with a $7 million deficit, Turner said difficult decisions need to be made, including closing other schools within the district.

No other schools have been named for closure as of yet.

Original plans for the 5th Ward School included moving Bessie Rhodes students and programming to the new building in a school within a school model, but as costs increased and the building needed shrinking, this aspect was dropped. That is when, according to Acosta, trust in the school district began faltering.

“We care deeply about having a wall to wall TWI program,” Acosta said. “It is offensive that Mr. Hernandez sits there and patronizes the rest of us as if we didn’t know what was best for our children and as if some of us are not experts in education as well.”

Acosta is also skeptical the TWI programs will continue after the students already enrolled in the program graduate from it.

She couldn’t say whether legal action would be taken in response to the vote but did thank Wang Su and Salem.  

Board Member Mya Wilkins voted in favor of the closure, saying data previously collected as part of a program to modernize and address historic wrongs within the district showed D65 families prioritize walkability. The program, called Student Assignment Planning or SAP, started in 2021 and began the movement to return a school to the city’s 5th Ward. Foster School was previously housed there but closed after students were bused to other district schools after school segregation was struck down by the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Bessie Rhodes parent Ashley Jackson quoted Linda Carol Brown Thompson’s experience trying to attend a segregated school in Topeka, Kansas that led to the case.

“‘I couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere and Wanda,’” Jackson read. “What she has experienced is exactly what the students at Bessie Rhodes are getting ready to experience.”

Soo La Kim, another board member who voted for the closure, said the communities of Bessie Rhodes and the new 5th Ward school overlap and as such, both will benefit once ground is broken in a few weeks’ time.

“It is difficult to make these decisions that do have negative impacts but I think that’s part of change,” La Kim said. “Delaying that change is another way of getting in the way of a certain dream.”

Acosta responded to this sentiment saying it is “irresponsible” to pit Black Evanstonians against other minority groups. Salem echoed her, saying he doesn’t believe the fates of the two schools needed to be intertwined.

Bessie Rhodes will close its doors as of July 1, 2026.