Federal judge ends Chicago schools desegregation decree

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Late Thursday afternoon, a federal judge scrapped the CPS desegregation consent decree–a move that likely will result in the district abandoning the use of race as a factor in the admissions policies of magnet and selective schools. The move by U S District Judge Charles Kocoras also halted the court’s monitoring of the district’s bilingual program, which activists claimed is still  inadequate and in need of supervision. 

The desegregation decree had been in place for more than 20 years. 

Late Thursday afternoon, a federal judge scrapped the CPS desegregation consent decree–a move that likely will result in the district abandoning the use of race as a factor in the admissions policies of magnet and selective schools. 

The move by U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras also halted the court’s monitoring of the district’s bilingual program, which activists claimed is still  inadequate and in need of supervision. 

The desegregation decree had been in place for more than 20 years. 

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which served as a friend to the court in the case, said attorneys were “obviously disappointed.” 

“We are very concerned about what this will mean in terms of access to selective enrollment schools for minority children,” Yohnka says. “What clearly will be needed is for parents, activists and those who really care about school reform in Chicago to monitor the school district to ensure appropriate representation.”

For magnet schools, the consent decree called for a lottery, based on race, to ensure integration in enrollment. In selective enrollment schools, race was an admissions factor, and white students, who make up just 9 percent of districtwide enrollment, were allowed up to 35 percent of available seats. 

CPS officials could not be reached for comment. They had argued in court hearings in favor of lifting the decree, saying it would free up money spent on transportation and other services needed to comply with the decree. Further, they noted that, with just 9 percent white enrollment, more integration was impossible.

CEO Ron Huberman has not talked publicly about his thoughts on how the district will handle selective admissions should the decree be lifted. 

But in a January court hearing, CPS officials signaled that they will shift from using race as a factor, perhaps adopting socio-economic status instead.

San Francisco is often seen as a model for this strategy to promote integration. However, critics note that since their decree was lifted in 2005, the schools have become more segregated and the achievement gap persists. 

Catalyst  wrote several articles over the past year detailing a slow decline in the number of black and Latino students in the city’s most sought after magnet and selective enrollment schools, called CPS’ crown jewels. 

Seats in selective schools in Chicago are such a hot commodity that currently the U.S. attorney’s office is investigating the use of clout in admissions.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund presented witnesses at the January hearing who spoke about the deficiencies in the bilingual program. Yonka noted, “the real horrors of students not being served.” MALDEF officials could not be reached for comment.