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Case closed: Federal ruling means 50 CPS schools will close

West Pullman Elementary School  is one 50 Chicago schools slated close later this month as part aggressive cost cutting

West Pullman Elementary School is one of 50 Chicago schools slated to close later this month as part of aggressive cost cutting that calls for the single largest closing of schools in any American city in years. (AP File Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Updated: September 17, 2013 8:24AM

With a little more than a week until the first day of school, U.S. District Court Judge John Z. Lee ruled Thursday that he will not bar Chicago Public Schools from closing 49 elementary schools and a high school program, rejecting arguments that African American and disabled students’ rights will be violated.

His ruling — denying plaintiffs’ preliminary injunctions against closing schools — essentially shuts down the schools supporters’ last legal effort to keep them open, or knocks down the last legal hurdle preventing CPS from permanently shuttering the record number of schools.

Lee wrote in a 50-plus-page opinion that he did not agree with the complaints of CPS students and their parents that closing the schools would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the civil rights of the African-American students disproportionately affected by the closings. Those students, he wrote, won’t suffer any greater harm than other students caught in the closings.

“Plaintiffs have failed to show that the school closings would require revisions to their children’s Individualized Education programs,” he wrote.

All legal efforts to stave off the closings have failed. A state court judge ruled last month in a separate case involving 10 particular schools that the decisions and concerns of independent hearing officers did not trump the Board of Education’s authority. And late last week, another federal judge said that keeping Trumbull Elementary School open “would interfere with CPS’ ability to decide how best to allocate resources under an already-strained budget.”

Classes resume on Aug. 26.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a written statement: “Today’s court ruling supports our belief that every child in every neighborhood throughout the District deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and life. We are committed to ensuring that every child can live up to their potential and we look forward to continuing to work with parents, principals, teachers and our school communities on a successful start to the new school year on August 26 and putting our children on a path to a brighter future.”

The Board of Education voted in May to shutter 50 schools, 48 of them in June, not for academic problems but for space reasons. The district said it needed to consolidate its tight finances to be able to redirect money from maintaining buildings that were under capacity into better teaching and learning programs. Most of the schools selected were on Chicago’s predominantly African-American South and West sides in neighborhoods that have lost the greatest population over the last decade. The district said it had about 400,000 children in schools with space for 500,000.

Parents from six of the schools filed these federal lawsuits. Parents of special education students at Lafayette Elementary School, Trumbull Elementary School and Morgan Elementary School alleged that the tight schedule of reassigning so many special education students would not allow enough time for administrators in new schools to acclimate children or to properly revise and implement their specialized learning plans.

The three other parents at Manierre Elementary School, Calhoun North Elementary School, and Williams Preparatory Middle School said that the criteria CPS used to close schools disproportionately affected African American children and would “result in their children being placed in larger classes with longer, unfamiliar and dangerous commutes to and from school,” according to the judge’s ruling.

After a four-day hearing in which many CPS administrators testified, the parents failed to gain class status that would incorporate all 50 schools into their lawsuit.

Their attorney Tom Geoghegan said late Thursday he’s disappointed with the decision and is reviewing the decision, but acknowledged time is short before the first day of class.

“He denied the preliminary injunction motion,” Geoghegan said of the judge’s ruling. “He didn’t dismiss the case.”

Email: lfitzpatrick

Twitter: @bylaurenfitz

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