Councils file lawsuit to stop school closings, turnarounds

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A coalition of local school council members filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop CPS from moving forward with its proposed school closings, phase-outs and turnarounds. 

The LSC members claim that CPS violated state law when it put their schools on probation and then failed to provide them “specific steps” in order to “correct identified deficiencies.”

The coalition wants a Cook County Circuit Court judge to hold an emergency hearing and put an injunction in place before Feb. 22, the day the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposals. If an injunction is not put in place before the vote, the plaintiffs hope a judge will stop the actions from being implemented.

CPS leaders have proposed closing six schools, including Crane and Dyett high schools, and turning around 10 others.

While the plaintiffs are LSC members, the Chicago Teachers Union is paying the legal expenses and supporting the lawsuit. The CTU has consistently fought against school actions, saying they displace teachers and there is not enough evidence that they work to improve student achievement.

Pat Bell, a grandmother on the local school council of Herzl Elementary on the West Side, said her school has been on probation and in physical disrepair for years. She noted that Herzl never turns off the boiler, even in summer, because the school staff are afraid it will break down and not turn back on. But now that the turnaround is announced, she said, CPS facilities staff have been there looking at the condition of the building.

“We cried out for help,” Bell said. “We asked for someone to tell us what to do.”

 CEO Jean Claude responded to the lawsuit by saying it would be an injustice not to take some action to improve the schools. 

“The fact is that most adults in our system have allowed the status quo to continue year after year, failing our children,” Brizard said in a press release. “Our students cannot afford to wait another day.” 

But Jitu Brown, a Dyett LSC member and a community organizer for KOCO, said the school actions being pushed by CPS are a continuation of what has been happening for years. He called CPS policies “punitive.”

“CPS is locking out LSCs,” Brown said. “We don’t pay taxes to be disenfranchised.”

Besides the primary charges, the lawsuit asserts that:

·         The board did not involve LSCs in the probation process.

·         The board has no “specific objective criteria” to determine which schools on probation are selected for closure, phase-out or turnarounds.

·         The board never provided the plaintiffs with a budget that included “specific expenditures directly calculated to correct educational and operational deficiencies identified by the [Board’s] probation team.”

In addition, the lawsuit suggests that the board’s actions disproportionately affect LSCs at black schools.