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CTU files suit in Circuit Court to stop 10 CPS school closings

Chicago Teacher's UniPresident Karen Lewis speaks with CPS CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett prior May 22 Board Educatimeeting where school closings were approved.

Chicago Teacher's Union President Karen Lewis speaks with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett prior to the May 22 Board of Education meeting where school closings were approved. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: July 2, 2013 6:35AM

One week after the Board of Education approved the closing of a record 50 Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Teachers Union filed another lawsuit trying to do what their many protests could not: Halt the closures.

In a suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Wednesday, the CTU is seeking a judge to stop closures at 10 elementary schools because independent hearing officers, who are all former judges, determined that CPS failed to comply with the board’s own guidelines for choosing which schools to close or did not make adequate safety provisions in time for the board’s May 22 vote.

The board had “the clear duty to not approve the CEO’s recommended school closings when the CEO made that recommendation without following the mandates set for in ... the School Code,” the lawsuit states.

State law passed in 2011 “allowed the Chicago Public Schools to write their own rules for closing schools but it requires that they follow their own rules,” said CTU lead attorney Robert Bloch, surrounded by parents at the affected schools. “The independent hearing officers found that they failed to do so. The Board of Education is now taking an approach that many believe it has been following all along: The public hearings on school closings were just for show.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll declined to comment specifically on the lawsuits, or whether the closings were legal.

She released a statement Wednesday saying, “union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools. Now is the time for every adult from every community to come together and support our children to ensure they have a safe and smooth transition to their new, higher-performing welcoming schools with the resources needed to succeed and thrive in the classroom.”

The proposed 10 closures opposed by the independent reviewers — all retired judges — are: Buckingham Special Education Center, Calhoun North, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, King Elementary School, Manierre Elementary School, Mayo Elementary School, Morgan Elementary School, Overton Elementary School, Williams Elementary School and Williams Preparatory Academy Middle School.

The hearing officers allege that CPS did not follow proper procedure for closing the schools. Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett voluntarily asked the board to leave Jackson and Manierre open, which they did.

The lawsuit also includes Stockton Elementary School and Stewart Elementary School since hearing officers questioned the transition plan and safety programs for them and four others. There also were concerns about schools that serve children with special needs.

CPS said at the time that the hearing officers either misinterpreted the requirements of state law or exceeded the scope of their authority in issuing their findings.

CTU vice president called this lawsuit a “method of last resort.”

“At some point there has to be some accountability that looks back and says, if you break the law, you shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, you should be held accountable, and those schools shouldn’t close,” he said.

The CTU already backed two federal lawsuits filed last week by parents alleging that the closures of so many schools sitting in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and serving high percentages of children with special needs violate children’s civil rights. Those parents want the closures delayed by a year while they continue to fight in court. That lawsuit is pending; a four-day hearing is scheduled to begin in mid-July in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Hearings in Wednesday’s suit have not yet been scheduled.

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