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CTU files civil-rights lawsuits over school closings

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Updated: June 18, 2013 7:21AM



Attorneys backed by the Chicago Teachers Union filed two federal class action lawsuits Wednesday charging that the closing of 53 public schools in September will violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

The suits, filed on behalf of parents with children in schools designated to be shuttered, seeks an injunction to delay or stop the closings.

One of the suits charges the Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the City of Chicago with violating the ADA, alleging that closing the schools over such a short period would unfairly hurt special-education students.

“There is no way that in a few short months the Board can responsibly do the counseling and provide the support services these children with disabilities need,” CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, a former special-education teacher, said during a Loop news conference.

Attorney Thomas Geoghegan said the closings violate the ADA because under the federal law “it’s illegal to conduct a process that’s going to cause more harm to children with disabilities than non-disabled kids.”

The second suit also alleges violations of the ADA, but it adds a claim of racial discrimination, charging that the Board of Education since 2001 has targeted African-American communities to bear the brunt of school closings.

“The defendants have used various shifting criteria that they allege to be race-neutral but that always have the effect of singling out poor and marginalized African-American children to bear the educational and human costs of the closings,” the suit states.

Geoghegan said that since 2001 there have been 72 school closings and more than 90 percent of the displaced children have been black, while currently African Americans make up 42 percent of the student population.

“If the board and Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the mayor of the City of Chicago want to save costs,” Geoghegan said, “they ought to find another way of doing so than singling out African-American children over and over and over and over to bear the costs of these school closings.”

CPS did not respond to the specific charges in the suit but issued a statement from Byrd-Bennett: “We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child. And, yet these lawsuits demonstrate that union leadership is committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our kids.”

Nancy Hablutzel, a former special-ed teacher who is now an attorney and IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law adjunct professor specializing in education law, said suing under the federal ADA offers the possibility of obtaining a swift injunction in cases where the plaintiffs may suffer “irreparable harm.”



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