A handful of cities across the country are becoming laboratories for an invigorated school reform movement—the result, depending on whom you ask, either of great political courage or massive budget shortfalls. Since 2005, the number of students in charter schools in Chicago has more than tripled, and Philadelphia has replaced traditional public schools with a new arrangement in which a mix of public and privately run schools are overseen by a central entity. “If we don’t make these changes, we haven’t lived up to our responsibility as adults to the children of the city of Chicago,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said last year of his plan to overhaul the Windy City’s sprawling school system.
But these reform efforts are not without casualties, as the number of shuttered schools in urban communities from New Orleans to Newark can attest. In the past year alone, 24 schools have been closed in Philadelphia and 50 have been closed in Chicago—the largest number of any school district in the country. Last week, community activists filed three federal civil rights complaints in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago, charging that students of color have been disproportionately affected by the wave of school closures. Jessica Rodrigue, a Chicago-based photographer, visited the schools in her own city last summer to document the closures. Her photos of moving boxes, empty auditoriums and papered-over signs reflect the suddenness of the change that threw so many young lives into uncertainty.