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Urban Prep Academies graduating seniors at a 2022 college signing day. After a lengthy battle, a Cook County judge this week said Urban Prep leaders can remain open.

Pat Nabong

Chicago’s Urban Prep school for boys wins right to remain open this fall

Urban Prep Academies, the once-lauded charter school that caters to Black male students, got the go-ahead to continue operating its two campuses for the upcoming school year after a judge rejected Chicago Public Schools’ plans for a takeover.

Cook County Judge Anna Loftus this week sided with Urban Prep in ruling that a state moratorium on CPS school closings applies to charter schools and CPS “thus may not close, consolidate, or phase-out Urban Prep-Englewood and Urban Prep-Bronzeville until after the moratorium expires on January 15, 2025.”

CPS had revoked Urban Prep’s charter to run its two South Side campuses last November, citing financial mismanagement and concerns about the charter’s response to a sexual misconduct investigation involving Urban Prep’s founder.

The school district said it has already appealed this week’s decision and that it does not agree the moratorium applies to the non-renewals of charter schools, noting that a revocation is the district’s only avenue for taking action when charters fail to meet the terms of their contract or are involved in mismanagement.

This may set up a tug of war over students between Urban Prep and the school district, which already approved a new school for former Urban Prep students, had enrolled about 350 of them and hired a principal for an August opening

CPS owns the buildings Urban Prep has leased for its two campuses.

After the Board of Education voted to revoke Urban Prep’s charter, school district leaders said they wanted to make sure the students, mostly Black young men, would continue to have a school focused on their needs. The board approved the creation of a new school to open in August, the Bronzeville-Englewood School, and reached out to students and staff to try to bring them on board.

Urban Prep now says 95% of the 350 students enrolled in the CPS-run school have committed to staying with the charter network, according to Urban Prep Chief Academic Officer Dennis Lacewell. He said it’s incumbent on CPS to release those students and direct them back to Urban Prep’s two campuses.

“We are confident and optimistic about turning the page and building a new relationship with Chicago Public Schools, the [school] board and the mayor’s administration,” Lacewell said. Under the court’s decision, CPS will continue to have oversight over Urban Prep’s two campuses.

The issue is “urgent” because student enrollment determines the number of teachers they can hire for the upcoming school year, he said. Students return to class on Aug. 21. Urban Prep is also planning to host its annual “Freshman Academy” to help orient students in the coming weeks.

In a statement CPS said, “The district’s focus remains on ensuring that all CPS students have access to high-quality educational opportunities in their neighborhood.”

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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