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CTU Files Lawsuit, Class Action Appeal against Board of Ed for Continued Racial Discrimination in District ‘Turnaround’ Policy

by ctu communications  |  11/03/2014

CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit in Chicago, seeking class certification status on behalf of more than 200 teachers and staff terminated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as a result of the 2012 turnarounds. This is one of the ongoing major legal actions taken by the Union on school actions.

The CTU’s lawsuit and class action appeal allege that the district’s turnaround policy discriminates against African-American teachers and staff of color by disproportionately selecting schools that have a higher percentage of African American teachers compared to other district schools. More than 52 percent of the tenured teachers terminated as a result of the 2012 turnarounds were African American, despite making up less than 30 percent of the tenured teaching staff at CPS, and 44 percent of the tenured teacher population in other schools meeting criteria for turnaround.

“It is both dramatic and disturbing that highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals who are essential lifelines to neighborhood schools are being displaced, with a disparate impact on African American teachers and staff,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “For more than five years we have asked CPS to stop these discriminatory school actions, and instead, to work with the CTU and our community and parent allies to create robust and well-funded neighborhood schools.”

The African-American teaching force in CPS declined from 40 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2011, and the district’s discriminatory school actions have only magnified since the 2012 turnarounds. In 2013, the same year as 50 schools closed in African-American communities, CPS turned around another five schools, affecting more than 120 certified teachers—70 percent of whom were African-American teachers. The CTU is challenging that action before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In 2014, CPS turned around three more schools, again affecting a disproportionate percentage of African-American teachers. In a district where there are now less than a quarter of teachers who are African-American, the three schools selected this year for turnaround had a teaching staff that was 65 percent African-American.

In the last six years, 33 schools have been turned around.  All faculty and staff are dismissed and replaced. Dismissals are handed down regardless of qualifications or experience.

“CPS terminates every single employee when it subjects a neighborhood school to ‘turnaround,’ regardless of qualifications and experience,” said CTU attorney Robin Potter. “The inequity of ‘turnarounds’ is not merely perception but a reality.” In addition to Potter, the individual class plaintiffs are represented by Randall Schmidt of the University of Chicago Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

The CTU also continues to fight the district’s ongoing layoff of tenured and qualified teachers, and in particular, the discriminatory impact of its layoff policies on African-American staff.  On October 22, 2014, the CTU filed its Motion for Class certification in federal court, challenging the 2011 layoffs of 763 African American teachers and staff.  The lawsuit asserts that the layoffs impacted a disproportionately high number of African-American teachers and staff members. 

The plaintiffs, on behalf of the layoff class, allege that the district’s layoff policy and practice violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district’s layoffs disproportionately selected schools in the predominately African American South and West sides of Chicago for layoffs and in turn laid-off disproportionate numbers of African American teachers and staff.

Since 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Chicago Board of Education have suspended the careers of close to 5,000 certified teachers and 3,000 educational support personnel, and closed and turned around nearly 80 schools. This disinvestment has been primarily concentrated on the city’s South and West sides, disproportionately impacting students, communities and staff of color.

Chicago Teachers Union