"Community Life of Oak Park in the 19th Century" at Horace Mann Elementary

School officials at both Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School and Horace Mann Elementary School are following the lead of their counterparts at Percy Julian Middle School by removing murals depicting primarily white people.

The decision was made by District 97 school board members to support removing the two additional murals, following a request from school administrators and some parents and students.

Chris Jasculca, a spokesman for the school district, said in a telephone interview that the decision does not require approval by the school board unless the cost of removal exceeds $25,000.

It is not yet determined how much the removal will cost each school, but Jasculca said they are expected to be taken down sometime this summer.

The mural removed from Julian last month, titled “Child and Sports – Winter,” was painted by Ethel Spears in 1937, as part of the Works Project Administration’s Federal Art Project. It depicts exclusively white students skating outdoors in winter.

Similarly, the mural at Brooks is titled “Child in Sports – Summer” and is a companion piece to the painting removed from Julian and also was painted by Spears in 1937.

The painting at Mann is titled “Community Life of Oak Park in the 19th Century,” and was painted by Emmanuel Jacobson and Ralf Henricksen, with assistance from Charles Copeland and Irene Biannucci, in 1936.

The murals at Brooks and Julian are both 16 feet, 10 inches long by 6 feet, 2 inches high. The mural at Mann is 7 feet high and 75 feet long.

Jasculca said the issue concerning the murals rose to the surface from a discussion by students in social justice clubs at the respective schools.

“The students [at Julian] said, ‘The commons is a place where we eat every day and socialize every day, and for us, when we see this mural there’s not that sense of belonging,'” Jasculca said.

He said the school district aims to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion, adding, “If we’re committed to the goals we have been striving to accomplish, we have to take their feedback seriously,” he said.

He noted that there is a variety opinions concerning the removal, with some residents and other stakeholders voicing their opposition to taking the murals down.

“Some are adamantly opposed to removing them,” he said.

The Julian mural is being stored in a climate-controlled space in the D97 administration building.

Removing the mural at Mann might be trickier, and more costly, because of its size, according to Jasculca.

“The mural at Mann is more complicated because it stretches across the length of the hallway,” he said.


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