Busing, magnet programs, bilingual ed in limbo as Chicago schools desegregation decree is lifted

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Now that the CPS desegregation decree has been scrapped, a number of
questions are up in the air: What criteria will the district use to
admit students to highly sought-after selective and magnet schools?
Will CPS provide any busing to magnet schools–and if it not, how will
lower-income families get their children to them? What will happen to
the extra staff, such as foreign language teachers and dance
instructors, provided to magnet schools and paid for with desegregation
funds?

And will anyone keep tabs on how well the district is serving English-
language learners, a question that was first raised when the status of
ELL students became part of the decree in 2006? 

Now that the CPS desegregation decree has been scrapped, a number of questions are up in the air: What criteria will the district use to admit students to highly sought-after selective and magnet schools? Will CPS provide any busing to magnet schools–and if it not, how will lower-income families get their children to them? What will happen to the extra staff, such as foreign language teachers and dance instructors, provided to magnet schools and paid for with desegregation funds?

And will anyone keep tabs on how well the district is serving English- language learners, a question that was first raised when the status of ELL students became part of the decree in 2006?  

On Friday afternoon, CPS issued a brief statement in which CEO Ron Huberman stated: “We recognize the importance of promoting diverse learning communities for every student and remain committed to the development of a fair admissions process to achieve that goal even further.”

The statement also said that Huberman has appointed a transition team to come up with a new admissions process for selective and magnet schools, but didn’t name any team members.

Huberman made no public appearances on Friday, according to his spokeswoman Monique Bond. And in his eight months on the job, he has made no statements on what criteria should be considered in the admissions process.

However, Huberman says he has begun to implement stricter controls on the process since the clout-in-admissions controversy came to light. 

The ACLU of Illinois issued a statement expressing concern that the judge lifted the decree without knowing the district’s plan to ensure that all students have access to the top schools.

The lack of a plan “should concern all residents of Chicago,” says Legal Director Harvey Grossman.

Another major decision Huberman and his top officials will have to make is on busing. Currently, the district provides limited busing, for elementary students who live between 1-1/2 and 6 miles of magnet and selective schools. The district is spending $23 million on busing in this fiscal year. 

In addition, without the decree, CPS will no longer be compelled to target money to its 43 magnet and 23 selective schools. Those schools now get extra teachers paid for by the board, for specialty programs in areas such as language and fine arts. Further, the fate of the magnet cluster program is up in the air. That program, essentially a shadow of the full-fledged magnet school program, provides 229 neighborhood elementary schools with small grants that pay for extras in areas such as science and technology.  

This year, CPS is spending just over $72 million on teachers and other staff for these programs.

The desegregation consent decree also demanded the district provide quality bilingual education. U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras’ ruling states that he does not believe the federal government has jurisdiction in the matter.

Ricardo Meza, a staff attorney in Chicago for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, says that he, like the ACLU, is disappointed by the ruling. MALDEF and the ACLU served as friends of the court in the case and argued that the decree should be kept in place.

At a court hearing in January, Meza presented several witnesses who testified they had not received any bilingual education, were taught by unqualified teachers or had a fellow classmate, assigned to translate for them because their teacher did not speak Spanish.

 “It is discriminatory,” says Meza.

Without the decree, and the monitoring it required, there is no pressure on the district to submit reports documenting their efforts to integrate schools and provide quality bilingual education.  “I am worried about transparency,” Meza notes.

However, Meza points out that he would like to see all neighborhood schools improve, rather than having only a relative few selective and magnet schools. Latino and black students are under-represented in the district’s most elite schools.

“I have always said that I have no problem with Cadillacs,” Meza says, “but that we have to make sure that everyone else is not driving a Pinto.”