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Judge delays court fight over closing Chicago schools until July

Matthew Johnscenter member school council Dewey Elementary Academy Fine Arts chants during march against closing public schools Chicago Ill. Saturday

Matthew Johnson, center, a member of the school council at Dewey Elementary Academy of Fine Arts, chants during a march against the closing of public schools in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The march started at Jesse Owens Elementary Community Academy and then proceeded to West Pullman Elementary School followed by Marcus Garvey Elementary. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 25, 2013 6:22AM

Protesters’ last, best chance of halting the closure of 50 Chicago public schools will be resolved at a four-day hearing in July, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

One day after the Chicago Board of Education voted to close the schools, the high-stakes battle over the fate of 27,000 students moved to a 12th-floor courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Court building.

A group of parents — backed by the Chicago Teachers Union — wants Judge John Z. Lee to delay the closures for a year while they carry on their fight in court. They say in two class-action lawsuits that black and disabled students will be unfairly affected by the closures.

Lee on Thursday declined the parents’ request to issue a preliminary injunction against the closures before the school year ends, but he said he’d hear evidence at a hearing starting July 16.

During heated exchanges with lawyers for the Board of Education and the City of Chicago, parents’ attorney Thomas Geoghegan warned there would be “a bloodletting of special-educational needs students over the summer.”

“There’s a lot of apprehension, anxiety and concern right now,” he added, urging the judge to resolve the case “sooner rather than later.”

Describing CPS as a “dysfunctional organization” that is “rushing the process,” he said it would be more harmful to special-needs students to push ahead with the closures than it would be to CPS to delay them.

He said that Chicago students “get a horrible special-needs education,” comparing their treatment unfavorably with wealthy north suburban schools such as New Trier High School, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended.

Representing the board, Sally Scott said that was an “insult to the students, the teachers and the system” in Chicago. “They are not being harmed,” she said, adding that plans are in place to ease the transfer of special-needs students.

The board and the city want Lee to throw out the case.

Though Geoghegan alleges the board is violating the law on a systemwide basis, the judge said he wants to hear about specific individual students and schools at the July hearing.

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