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Editorial: CPS invited lawsuits

Updated: June 18, 2013 7:28AM

The vote to close 54 Chicago public schools hasn’t even happened yet and the first lawsuits already were filed in federal court on Wednesday.

No surprise there. What is surprising is how willingly CPS invited these suits.

For months, this page has argued that no school system, much less one with a history of dysfunction like Chicago, can pull off mass closures in such a short amount of time.

We support closing under-used schools but have urged spreading the closures over two years. And since the schools to be closed were named in late March, we’ve advocated for sparing several where the harm of closure undoubtedly outweighs the benefits.

Despite that, the mayor and the schools CEO have barrelled ahead, planning to close 54 schools in June that they say are under-enrolled. The vote is next Wednesday.

The two class-action suits, filed on behalf of several parents and students, and with the support of the Chicago Teachers Union, singled out two groups for potential harm — special education and black students.

The arguments around special education are compelling. The suit lays out all the steps that must occur to ensure that thousands of special-needs students transition successfully, including many with severe disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome. Though school officials are working hard on this, the suit argues convincingly that it can’t be done on such a large scale by August without causing real damage. Some students haven’t even been assigned a new school yet. The suit asks a one-year delay for the closures.

We are far less moved by the claim that black students have been singled out in a discriminatory way. Predominately black schools were chosen this year because that is where CPS’ under-enrollment problem is most acute. That suit seeks no closures.

With just days before the vote, the special education suit should create that much more pressure on CPS board members to vote against closing several proposed schools.

We’ve named several already, including Garvey, Lafayette, Trumbull and Courtenay. And last week, independent hearing officers hired by CPS issued reports opposing 10 of 53 elementary closings. They also recommended delaying for one year the closings of Stewart and Stockton and against co-locating another school at Bowen High.

And for 10 more proposed closings, the officers expressed serious reservations, mostly around student safety, even while finding that CPS complied with relevant laws in recommending the closures.

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