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CTU, Parents File Lawsuit Challenging Unlawful Board Approval of 10 School Closures

by ctu communications  |  06/03/2013

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union last week filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education that challenges the legality of the Board’s decision to close 10 Chicago public schools. The suit, filed by CTU general counsel Robert Bloch on behalf of the Union and for parents and students from 10 elementary schools slated for closure, charges that the Board’s approval of Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s recommendation to close the 10 schools violates the Illinois School Code (ILSC) because independent hearing officers ruled that the closures would violate the Board’s own guidelines.

Independent hearing officers consisting of former Illinois and federal court judges recommended the removal of the 10 schools from a list of 53 proposed closings. The suit argues that Byrd-Bennett failed to comply with published ILSC guidelines for selecting schools for closure, and under the code (5 ILCS 5/34-230[h]), “if the chief executive officer proposes a school action without following the mandates set forth in this Section, the proposed school action shall not be approved by the Board during the school year in which the action was proposed.”

“Under the law, the hearing officers’ ruling is final; there is no appeal,” Bloch said. “The law prohibits the Chicago Board of Education from closing a school if the closing plan does not comply with its own guidelines.”
For the following schools, qualified independent hearing officers determined in written reports that Byrd Bennett’s proposals for closure were not consistent with the ILSC, with the district’s own guidelines, or both: Williams Elementary, Buckingham Special Education Center, King Elementary, Morgan Elementary, Stewart Elementary, Stockton Elementary, Calhoun North Elementary, Mayo Elementary, Delano Elementary and Overton Elementary. 

CPS wrote the rules on this year’s school closings, chose the hearing officers and set the deadlines for making decisions, but has not followed its own guidelines, nor is it following the recommendations of the judges it chose, said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

“At some point, there has to be some accountability,” Sharkey said. “If you break the law, you shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, you should be held accountable, and those schools shouldn’t close.” 

Most of the hearing officers who rejected school closures found that CPS had not adequately provided for student safety. Safety remains a major concern for parents of children at closing schools citywide, as well as those represented in today’s suit. Plaintiff Lakecha Green is the mother of two children at King Elementary, and said that not only has CPS broken the law, but they’ve failed to walk the walk her children will take through their neighborhood, at risk of gang violence and sexual predators.

“I have seen death,” Green said. “I don’t want my son to see that.” 

This is the third lawsuit this month brought against the Board’s attempt at the largest mass school closure in U.S. history. Two lawsuits were previously filed in federal court by parents of CPS students seeking an injunction against all proposed school closings by the City of Chicago and CPS for violations of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Illinois Civil Rights Act (ICRA).

Download the full lawsuit filed in the Cook County Circuit Court and the Summary of Hearing Officers' Determinations Why Schools Should Not Be Closed.

Chicago Teachers Union