Independent hearing officers have come out against 11 school closings and one co-location proposed by Chicago Public Schools, and have said the district should hold off on two other school closings until the 2014-15 school year.
The hearing officers’ reports cited concerns over student safety, and some felt Chicago Public Schools had not made the case that students would go to better schools—one of the district’s own guidelines for closing a school.
Take the officer who oversaw the public hearing on closing Delano Elementary. Delano is not on probation. The proposed receiving school, Melody, is on probation—a fact CPS had not mentioned in its presentation before the hearing officer.
“Such an omission gives credence to those who believe the process is flawed,” the hearing officer wrote in his report.
In nine cases, the hearing officers determined Chicago Public Schools had not followed its own guidelines. The district forcefully disagreed with those assertions. The district’s law department immediately posted responses online to hearing officers whose recommendations differed from the district’s own.
School district spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the hearing officers who had found the district out of compliance were overstepping their role “by opining or creating or adding their own opinion to criteria that would determine, for example, what is a higher performing school.” Or, they had simply “misinterpreted” the state law, Carroll said.
During past rounds of school closings, hearing officers’ reports have only rarely sided against the school district. The district said it had received 60 reports.
In the case of Near North, which serves special education students, the hearing officer expressed concern about the closing, while recognizing that the district had met all its legal obligations for closing the school. “Although disheartening to parents, staff, and community, the school code does not take into account the emotional distress or trauma that such a move might have upon the fragile state of the special needs student. However, the CEO has complied with the requirements of the school code and guidelines.”
The hearing officer reports don’t have any immediate impact on the proposal to close schools. Carroll said the district is confident it has made the right school closing recommendations and has no plans to take any off the table.
At schools, meanwhile, staff, students, and parents saw the reports as a glimmer of hope.
“We have a foot in the door,” one principal said.
At Delano Elementary, a few kids on the playground had heard the news. “It’s not closing down! Mr. Roth told me!” one boy shouted.
Avanette Temple, the vice chair of Delano’s local school council, said her husband called her over to see the TV news in the morning. “It’s amazing. And we’re waiting to hear the news from Barbara Byrd-Bennett to make sure it’s ensured and to make sure it’s OK so we can go on with our 100 year anniversary.”
Temple says she knows the school isn’t saved yet. “The news that’s in the making, it’s good. So we could put a little smile on our face—a little.”
Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued a statement saying that hearing officer reports provide information that the board of education can use before its vote. She said the school district is moving forward on transition plans.
The board is slated to vote on the school closings May 22.
Hearing officers for the following schools recommended the schools not close:
Calhoun- Cather (https://secure.cps.k12.il.us/sa_wizard/Download.aspx?fid=2735)
Mahalia Jackson-Ft. Dearborn https://secure.cps.k12.il.us/sa_wizard/Download.aspx?fid=2759
Near North-in compliance, but closing “not wise” (https://secure.cps.k12.il.us/sa_wizard/Download.aspx?fid=2779)
Overton-Mollison - https://secure.cps.k12.il.us/sa_wizard/Download.aspx?fid=2781
Williams ES and Williams MS-Drake (https://secure.cps.k12.il.us/sa_wizard/Download.aspx?fid=2795)
In two cases, hearing officers say school closings should be put off until 2014-15:
The hearing officer for the Bowen-Noble Street co-location opposes the proposal:
Bowen-Noble co-location https://secure.cps.k12.il.us/sa_wizard/Download.aspx?fid=2718)
—Becky Vevea contributed reporting.
Follow WBEZ education reporters Linda Lutton and Becky Vevea @WBEZeducation
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