Chicago Public Schools has had a tumultuous 2012 — and though the district must be eager to start a new, fresh calendar year, they are facing yet another difficulty in December's closing days.
Three teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union have filed suit against CPS over its school closing policies. CPS' effort to close failing schools has overwhelmingly targeted West- and South-side schools that have a greater percentage of African-American teachers than in the rest of the city. The suit contends that by closing these schools, CPS is engaging in racial discrimination.
Changes in Chicago's teacher demographics are being used to support the lawsuit. In 2000, 41% of Chicago's teachers were African-American; by 2011 that number had dropped to 29%. The lawsuit states that this is a result of "intentional actions, policies and practices to phase out, close, combine or reconstitute purportedly poor-performing schools" that disproportionately affect African American teachers.
90% of Chicago's student body belongs to a racial/ethnic minority, with 42% identifying as African-American.
CTU claimed in a statement that the February 2012 round of schools selected for turnarounds — in which staff at 10 schools were fired — is a process that remains a mystery to teachers and citizens.
"The school district has yet to release any information on how these 10 schools were chosen from over 180 allegedly poor performing schools in the CPS system. The Board has been roundly criticized for its lack of transparency and published criteria in selecting schools for turnaround. "
A complaint was first filed in August with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
This has been a difficult year for education in Chicago. Most notably, CTU teachers went on strike for the first time in decades — a week-long action that riled both supporters and critics nationwide.
CTU President Karen Lewis became a nationally-known figure in education and politics this year as she not only led CTU through the strike, but has been vocal since about the nature of education reform in her city, state and country, going as far as calling some of Chicago's ed reform advocates nothing but corporate donors and "dilettantes."
CEO of Chicago Public Schools Jean-Claude Brizard, who had weathered the strike storm with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, stepped down in early October after 17 months on the job.
According to the CTU, the lawsuit aims to bring restitution to teachers affected by turnarounds/closures and to stop more from occurring.
The federal lawsuit seeks relief for all teachers affected by the 2012 and any future turnarounds—including reinstatement and damages—and importantly, an immediate moratorium on turnarounds and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee any future turnarounds, should any occur or be permitted.