Chicago Parents file lawsuit against school closings
"There is no way that in a few short months the Board can responsibly do the counseling and provide the support services these children with disabilities need," said CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, a former special education teacher. "These proposed closings will inevitably put our students at greater risk for academic failure."
Parents fear that by holding off the closing decisions to the eleventh hour and rushing children into new and unfamiliar schools without adequate counseling and support services, the Board will inflict harm and present severe obstacles to growth for the in excess of 5,000 children in CPS special education programs in the affected schools. They are asking the federal court for an injunction to delay school closings for a period of one year.
"This is a tragedy in the making," said plaintiff Denise Burns, the mother of a child living with a disability. "Let's slow down and do this sensibly."
The second suit charges the Board, Byrd-Bennett and the City with violations of Title II of the ADA for their proposal to close "so-called 'under-utilized' schools and needlessly uproot, transfer, and destabilize plaintiffs and thousands of other children in special education who will suffer academic and emotional setbacks as a result," and adds a claim of racial discrimination in violation of Section 5 of the ICRA as parents seek to block the Board from continuing to select African-American children in school closings. It reads:
Since the Board began closing schools in 2001, it has been in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act, according to the parents. Of the 72 schools the Board has closed to date, more than 90 percent of the displaced children are Black. In the latest closing proposal, 88 percent of the children in the closing schools are African-American, yet Black children make up only 42 percent of the students in the Chicago public schools.
"The Board says they use neutral criteria, but somehow they keep finding criteria that will single out only African-American children," said plaintiff and parent, Frances Newman. Her husband Alphonso added, "When these schools close, these children know they are being stigmatized because of their race.Ă˘€ť
The CTU has led the vigorous charge against the experimental school reform policies that have harmed CPS students since the cityĂ˘€™s public schools were turned over to mayoral control in 1995. Rather than close existing schools, CPS should provide schools supports that have a track record of success; a broad deep curriculum based on inquiry rather than mindless testing; trauma counseling and healthcare; opportunities for professional collaboration and growth; respect for professional judgment; and real opportunities for parental decision-making and involvement.
"School closings as policy is unsound," said CTU President Karen Lewis, a nationally board certified teacher. "This city has worked systematically to undermine our public education system and destabilize certain communities. There is no magic bullet, but we do know that research-based policies, targeted resource investments and reforms that are geared towards nurturing environments put our schools on track for steady improvement.
"We hope the courts listen to these parents and act swiftly to stop this assault on our schools, our students and our communities," she said. #
New York Times: Illinois: Lawsuits Filed Over Chicago School Closings
By Motoko Rich
Parents in Chicago have filed two federal lawsuits opposing proposed school closings. In March, the Chicago Public Schools identified 53 schools that it planned to close to save $560 million over 10 years. The school board will vote on the proposal next Wednesday. The suits, filed Wednesday in Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, say the closings would violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. In a complaint seeking to postpone them for a year, three parents seeking class-action status allege that the closings would pose "significant disruption" to special-education students. The second suit, which seeks to stop the closings altogether, alleges that they would "needlessly uproot, transfer and destabilize the children." The suit further says the closings would violate Illinois civil rights law because the schools fall disproportionately in areas where the vast majority of students are black.
Chicago Tribune: CTU files lawsuits to stop school closings
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
May 16, 2013
The Chicago Teachers Union's decision to go to court to try to stop the city from closing 53 elementary schools, while not unexpected, makes clear that the Board of Education's vote on the proposal next week will not put an end to the controversy.
The two lawsuits, filed on behalf of parents and their special needs children, say the proposed school closings are unfair, will harm students with disabilities and are discriminatory because almost all the students affected are African-American.
One lawsuit asks for a delay of at least a year before any schools are closed; the other asks for a permanent injunction on closings. Hearings on the suits are not expected until after the board votes Wednesday.
A CTU-backed lawsuit last year sought to block closings on behalf of local school council members, alleging that closings disproportionately affected African-Americans. That case was tossed out by a Cook County judge but is still under appeal.
The lead attorney for that case and those filed Wednesday is Tom Geoghegan, who said part of the purpose of taking legal action was to air the grievances many parents have against school closings.
"It's important, win or lose, to get the facts out to the public," Geoghegan said. "I don't think people really understand how much harm is going to be done to these children."
The lawsuits question the economic impact of school closings, which the district says are necessary to address underused buildings and save money.
"If the board and (schools chief) Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the mayor of the city of Chicago want to save costs, they ought to find another way of doing so than singling out African-American children over and over," Geoghegan said.
One lawsuit alleges that the district is violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in its plan to close schools because it "does not permit a timely and orderly process" for review and revision of individualized education programs, or IEPs, for children with special needs.
The other lawsuit, seeking a permanent injunction, says the district's plan will destabilize thousands of children in special education programs. It also claims racial discrimination, both in the current plan and in past 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."
CPS has stated that population declines in largely African-American neighborhoods has led to underenrollment in schools in those communities, leading to them being slated for closing this year.
More than 5,000 special education students are expected to be affected by this year's closings. CTU financial secretary Kristine Mayle, a special education teacher, said CPS did not have enough time to deal with the needs of those students in preparing its closings plan.
Mayle said the district has not set up one-on-one meetings with all special education parents to revise IEPs for each student. The fast-tracked closings also do not provide time to acclimate autism students, who need at least six months to get used to a new school environment, Mayle said.
"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."
CPS, which has been expecting a lawsuit for months, did not respond to the legal arguments in the case. Instead, a statement was released from Byrd-Bennett, who said: "These lawsuits demonstrate that union leadership is committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our kids. Thousands of children in underutilized schools are being cheated out of the resources they need to succeed."
Brooke Whitted, a Northbrook attorney who specializes in special education law, said lawsuits like those filed Wednesday face a tough road in federal court. However, much depends on the skill of the plaintiff's attorney, and Whitted said few are better than University of Chicago law professor Randall Schmidt, one of the lawyers who worked on the lawsuits.
The filings come a week after the release of reports by retired judges serving as hearing officers, which were critical of many of the proposed closings and opposed 13 of them.
One of the hearing officers, retired federal judge David Coar, was critical of the closing of Mahalia Jackson Elementary, which serves a large population of deaf students. Coar's report, which noted the lack of a safety plan for the school's students in moving to a new school, was cited in the lawsuits.
Geoghegan said Coar's opinion "ought to be given great weight" and he hoped Wednesday's filings wound lead board members "to read these two complaints before they vote on the closings."
Rod Estvan, of the disabled advocacy group Access Living, said he hopes the lawsuits will lead CPS to schedule individual meetings with special ed parents and revise all IEPs.
But he acknowledged that CPS has reached out to advocacy groups like his in recent months, and it could be a difficult case for the CTU.
"Prior cases that have been filed, the judge seemed to give greater weight to the right of districts to close schools," Estvan said.
Chicago Sun-Times: CTU files civil-rights lawsuits over school closings
By Art Golab
Attorneys backed by the Chicago Teachers Union filed two federal class action lawsuits Wednesday charging that the closing of 53 public schools in September will violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
The suits, filed on behalf of parents with children in schools designated to be shuttered, seeks an injunction to delay or stop the closings.
One of the suits charges the Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the City of Chicago with violating the ADA, alleging that closing the schools over such a short period would unfairly hurt special-education students.
"There is no way that in a few short months the Board can responsibly do the counseling and provide the support services these children with disabilities need," CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, a former special-education teacher, said during a Loop news conference.
Attorney Thomas Geoghegan said the closings violate the ADA because under the federal law "it's illegal to conduct a process that's going to cause more harm to children with disabilities than non-disabled kids."
The second suit also alleges violations of the ADA, but it adds a claim of racial discrimination, charging that the Board of Education since 2001 has targeted African-American communities to bear the brunt of school closings.
"The defendants have used various shifting criteria that they allege to be race-neutral but that always have the effect of singling out poor and marginalized African-American children to bear the educational and human costs of the closings," the suit states.
Geoghegan said that since 2001 there have been 72 school closings and more than 90 percent of the displaced children have been black, while currently African Americans make up 42 percent of the student population.
"If the board and Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the mayor of the City of Chicago want to save costs," Geoghegan said, "they ought to find another way of doing so than singling out African-American children over and over and over and over to bear the costs of these school closings."
CPS did not respond to the specific charges in the suit but issued a statement from Byrd-Bennett: "We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child. And, yet these lawsuits demonstrate that union leadership is committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our kids."
Nancy Hablutzel, a former special-ed teacher who is now an attorney and IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law adjunct professor specializing in education law, said suing under the federal ADA offers the possibility of obtaining a swift injunction in cases where the plaintiffs may suffer "irreparable harm."
Bloomberg Business Week: Chicago Parents Sue Chicago Board of Education
by Andrew Harris
The city of Chicago and its Board of Education have been sued by parents seeking to block a plan to close 53 elementary schools in the nationĂ˘€™s third-biggest school district.
Parents of three children, two who have disabilities and a third who is black, filed suit today at the U.S. District Court in Chicago alleging the closing plan violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
"Defendants have proposed the largest school closings in the history of American public education," according to the two-count complaint.
Supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the stated goal of the initiative announced in March is to eliminate schools the city has identified as "underutilized."
The third-biggest U.S. city, Chicago has a population of about 2.7 million. Its public school system serves 403,000 students attending 681 schools, according to the Chicago Public Schools website.
The parents sued on behalf of a proposed class of about 5,000 disabled students they say will be irreparably harmed by a transfer into new schools and for the 23 percent of the city's black elementary-school children whose rights are allegedly being violated by the plan.
Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the schools system, didn't immediately reply to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
A second complaint, filed later today by the parents of three more children with disabilities, alleges the closing plan was propsed too late in the year and doesn't allow sufficient time for those children and their peers to transition to "unfamiliar" schools.
Final school board approval of the closing plan may not occur until May 22, according to that complaint, which seeks a court order delaying the closings for at least a year.
"Every child in every neighborhood in Chicago deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed in life, but for too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools," CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett said of the closings plan in a statement issued on March 21.
"Chicago must make tough choices and by consolidating these schools we can focus on safely getting every child into a better performing school close to their home," Byrd-Bennett said then.
Emanuel's press office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the parents' lawsuit.
Backing the litigation is the Chicago Teachers Union.
"School closings as policy is unsound," said CTU President Karen Lewis, said in a statement today."This city has worked systematically to undermine our public education system and destabilize certain communities."
The remedy for failing schools she said, is targeted reform and investment. "There is no magic bullet," Lewis said.
The first case is McDaniel v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 13-cv-03624, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). The second case is Swan v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 13-cv-03623, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
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