Updated 7:30 pm
In a major victory for parents trying to keep their Near South Side elementary school open, a judge ruled Monday that the school district must stop taking steps to convert the building into a high school.
Soon after, Chicago Public Schools said it would not appeal. This means the planned conversion of National Teachers Academy Elementary school into a high school will not happen.
The new high school was set to open next fall, but that fell apart after Cook County Judge Frank Valderrama granted an injunction Monday afternoon.
He ruled that parents who challenged the closure of National Teachers Academy had a high likelihood of succeeding in their lawsuit. They argued that Chicago Public Schools violated their civil rights through the closure.
“CPS is fully committed to providing students in the Near South community with a high-quality neighborhood high school, and that will continue to be a top priority,” CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement. “While we strongly disagree with today’s ruling, we believe appealing today’s decision could create greater long-term uncertainty for students and we will not move forward with an appeal.”
Many parents in the packed courtroom had tears streaming down their face as the decision was read.
This represents the first time a court has intervened in a school closing decision by Chicago Public Schools.
It’s a blow to the school district, which had already begun accepting applications to the new National Teachers High School and started renovating the building so that it is better situated for high school students.
Not only have current National Teachers Academy parents fought the conversion plan, but they also have gained the support of Chance the Rapper, as well as at least one candidate in the 2019 mayoral race.
They say the school district shouldn’t close a high-performing elementary school that is fully utilized. In the past, closings have been justified by poor academic performance and low enrollment. They say NTA was being targeted because it serves mostly black students.
Their case was bolstered when South Loop Elementary, where NTA students were going to attend, was recently rated lower than NTA by both the city and the state. Under the plan, South Loop will get a new building and have a three-building campus.
But Chicago Public Schools officials refuse to call the conversion of NTA a closing, opting instead to call it a “grade reassignment.” They said the area needs a high school because few nearby children are willing to go to the neighborhood schools they are assigned to attend.
Families in the South Loop and Chinatown have sought a high school for their students for years. They contend their current attendance boundary high schools are not viable options because they are low-performing.
Since announcing the plan to create a new high school in the South Loop, several Near South Side communities had requested their children be guaranteed a spot. South Loop, Chinatown, some of Bridgeport, and some of Bronzeville has been included in the boundaries for the new high school.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.