Chicago Teachers Union Files Lawsuits Over School Closings

Next week’s Chicago Board of Education vote on the closing of fifty-three elementary schools and one high school has prompted the Chicago Teachers Union to go to court, reports Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah from the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Teachers Union filed two lawsuits, one of which proposes a delay of the closings for at least a year, and the other which asks for a permanent ban on the closings.

The lawsuits state that the closings are unfair to students with disabilities and are discriminatory since the majority of the students affected are African-American.

Kristin Mayle, Chicago Teachers Union financial secretary and a special education teacher, says CPS does not have adequate time to properly handle the needs of special education students. Autistic students need a minimum of six months to acclimate to a new environment, which the district has not accounted for.

Critics charge that CPS has also not set up individual meetings with parents to revise individualized education programs or IEPs.  These problems make the district in violation of “Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in its plan to close schools because it ‘does not permit a timely and orderly process’”.

Mayle also points out social dangers that can occur because of the schools closing:

 “Students with learning disabilities are much more vulnerable to the pressures of gangs and violence in the neighborhood because of their lack of self-esteem and they want to fit in,” Mayle said. “So these transitions are going to be dangerous for some of these kids, and I don’t think CPS has spent enough time working on it.”

Chicago Public Schools state that the reason for closing the schools is that population decline in predominantly African-American neighborhoods has lead to under enrollment. One of the lawsuits claims racial discrimination in both past and present school closings.

 “For the 72 schools that defendants have closed to date, African-American children make up more than 90 percent of the displaced children; and in currently proposed closings, they make up more than 80 percent of the displaced children,” the suit says. “Yet African-American children constitute only 42 percent of the children in public schools.”

As for the outcome of the lawsuits, it looks like it could be a “tough road in federal court” according to Brooke Whitted, a Northbrooke attorney who specializes in specal education law, and that it may depend on the plaintiff’s attorney’s skill level.

Lead attorney Tom Geoghegan hopes that the board members consider the complaints filed by hearing officers and do not vote in favor of the closings.

 “It’s important, win or lose, to get the facts out to the public. I don’t think people really understand how much harm is going to be done to these children.”