Chicago Schools: School Closures Generate Lawsuits & Protests

Chicago Schools: School Closures Generate Lawsuits & Protests
Protests and lawsuits continue in the fight over closing more than 50 Chicago Public Schools. We report on the latest developments in this ongoing story.

Chicago school officials may have made their decision to close 54 of the city’s schools official, but that hasn’t stopped the fight from teachers, students and parents who had direct stake in those schools. As recently as last week, students have staged protests over the closing of their schools, and members of the Chicago Teachers Union continue to make their voices heard through public protests and lawsuits. In the midst of the controversy, new information has surfaced suggesting Chicago Public Schools may not have been as forthcoming with information used to determine school closings as they could have been.

Protests Staged

The Grio reports that dozens of members of the Chicago Teachers Union were recently arrested during three days of protests that culminated in a march on City Hall. Protests began on the South and West sides of the city before the protestors turned their sights on the city’s capitol building. Those doing business at City Hall during the protests had to weave around teacher union members to arrive at the offices they needed. It was when protestors began to block elevator entrances throughout the building that arrests were made on trespassing charges.

Members of the teachers union, as well as parents, students and other in the Chicago community have voiced concerns over school closures. One of the primary worries is over students having to cross gang lines to get to their newly assigned schools. Some school board members have also called for a new school board elected by the community. Currently, the school board for Chicago Public Schools is appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also exercises most of the control over school board operations.

“We can all see what the consequences of their decisions are going to be and who will be affected by this,” Michael Brunson, recording secretary for the Chicago Teachers Union, told The Grio. “We already of a problem with excess of violence in these communities where schools are being closed. One thing anyone can agree with is that this is an assault on vulnerable communities that they feel do not have enough political clout to stand up and defend themselves.”

Boycott Planned

The students of CPS have also jumped on the bandwagon, forming their own boycott of standardized tests to protest high-stakes testing as well as the school closures. MSNBC reports that dozens of students participated in the boycott organized by two school organizations; Voices of Youth and Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools.

Some of the students involved in the protest alleged that teachers vowed retaliation if the students went through with the boycott.

“The only place that students should be during the school day is in the classroom with their teachers getting the education they need to be successful in life,” Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, told MSNBC.

Lawsuits Filed

In addition to the staged protests, the Chicago Teachers Union has also filed a lawsuit against the school district, according to the Chicago Tribune. A second lawsuit has also been filed by parents of special needs students in the district. The lawsuits allege the school closures are discriminatory because the majority of students in those schools are either black or Hispanic. The lawsuit filed by parents also claims the closures are unfair to their children and will prove to be harmful to those students that need the most support from the district.

“For the 72 schools defendants have closed to date, African-American children make up more than 90 percent of the displaced children; and in currently proposed closings, they make up more than 80 percent of the displaced children,” one of the lawsuits is quoted as saying at the Tribune. “Yet African-American children constitute only 40 percent of the children in public schools.”

One of the lawsuits asks for a one-year injunction before closing any of the schools, while the other lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction against the closures. Both lawsuits question the real economic impact of the closures, and state the plan will destabilize many special needs students across the district.

Questions are Asked

In the midst of the controversy, questions have begun to arise about the real savings that may come from the school closures. When the district first announced their plan to close 54 schools, they stated the decision would save the district approximately $560 million in capital expenses, according to WBEZ. Recently, the district has adjusted that number down by $122 million, to just over $437 million. The change was buried in a 457-page document released by the district.

In addition, the Chicago Tribune reports that some teachers and parents are beginning to question the practicality of closing some of the schools on the chopping block. For example, Ericson Academy, located on the West Side, has been slated for closure due to the $9.6 million district officials said it would cost to renovate the current building. However, Sumner Elementary, where Ericson students will be reassigned, will require approximately the same amount to update.

In fact, parents and teachers have discovered that in many instances where district officials cited the need for repair and updates in buildings identified for closure, similar repairs would be required in the buildings designated to remain open. This has many questioning the reasoning behind the closure list, and the decision to eliminate some schools that have already been equipped for disabled access or with other types of facilities.

As the battle continues to be waged in Chicago, district officials and city politicians are moving forward with their closure plans. This fall, many students in Chicago may find themselves at different school locations, as their neighborhood schools officially go out of commission.

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