CTU, parents file lawsuit against school closures

May 29, 2013

WBEZ/Bill Healy
File: Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union talking to reporters outside the Board of Education meeting where CPS voted to close 50 schools.

The Chicago Teachers Union filed a third lawsuit to stop schools from being closed this year.

The most recent suit, filed Wednesday morning, seeks to permanently halt the planned closure of ten schools included in the 50 approved by the Board of Education last week. It's the largest round of school closings in American history. 

For those ten grammar schools—Buckingham, Calhoun North, Delano, King, Mayo, Morgan, Overton, Stewart, Stockton, and Williams—former judges ruled that CPS was not complying with its own guidelines for shutting down schools.

But the school board approved the closings anyway, a move the lawsuit alleges violates state law. That law requires CPS to create guidelines for school closings and then requires independent hearing officers to evaluate whether district officials followed them.  

“You’re the ones that wrote your own procedures and rules. You’re the ones that wrote the guidelines,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “And now you’ve broken every single one of your own rules and the procedures that you agreed to and you’re not even following the recommendations of those retired judges.”

Sharkey said the district broke the law and should be held accountable.

Robert Bloch, CTU general counsel, said the judges’ rulings should be the final word. He pointed to where the law says if CPS did not follow the guidelines, “the proposed school action shall not be approved by the Board during the school year in which the school action was proposed.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll issued a statement that said “union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools.”

The lawsuit names 10 parents as well. LaKecha Green is one of them. She has three children, two who attend King Elementary and one who is still too young for school.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Green fought back tears describing how far her children will have to walk to receiving school Jensen.

“You have to have a very cold heart to say they’re doing this so they’ll have a better education, but if you can’t get to the education, what good is it?” Green said.

CPS has said it will provide busing to Jensen for current King students, but Green is still concerned.

Retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge Bernetta Bush did rule that the transition plan for King students did not “adequately address academic and safety concerns” and did not comply with the districts closure guidelines. District officials revised King’s transition plan after Bush’s ruling and before the Board vote.

After the hearing officers’ reports came out, CPS’s law department immediately posted responses to the district website. At the time, Carroll said the former judges were overstepping their role “by opining or creating or adding their own opinion.”

It’s not clear what role or significance the district’s responses and revisions will play in court.

Just before the Board of Education’s vote last week, the union filed a pair of lawsuits in federal court alleging that the proposed closings violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

Becky Vevea is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

CTU complaint to halt 10 of 50 school closings