Chicago Parents Ask Court to Delay Plan to Close Schools

Chicago parents are asking a U.S. judge to delay for at least one year, if not permanently, the city Board of Education’s plans to close 49 public schools.

The parents, who filed two separate lawsuits against the nation’s third-largest school district in May, claim the closings will adversely affect their children and more than 5,000 others who are enrolled in special-education programs and receive other individualized attention and counseling.

Their bid for an order preventing what they called “the largest school closing in the history of American public education” is scheduled to be considered by U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee starting today in Chicago.

“The closings will do significantly more harm to children with disabilities than to children without such disabilities and are more likely to cause academic, developmental and emotional setbacks for such children,” the parents of three children -- all of whom are black, two of whom have disabilities -- said in a court filing.

Those parents also contend the Board of Education’s plan discriminates against black children and should be scrapped.

Suing separately, four more students’ parents said the process is moving too fast for disabled students with individualized education programs and should be delayed for a year.

Third-Biggest City

Chicago, with a population of about 2.7 million, is the third-biggest U.S. city. Its public school system serves 404,000 students attending 681 schools, according to the Chicago Public Schools website.

Supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the stated goal of the initiative announced in March is to eliminate schools the city has identified as “underutilized.”

“By consolidating these schools we can focus on safely getting every child into a better-performing school close to their home,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who is a defendant in each case, said of the plan in a statement on March 21.

The school board and the city have asked Lee to throw out both complaints.

“Closing 49 underutilized elementary schools allows the Board of Education of the city of Chicago to better focus resources and to provide students with a higher-quality education,” the school system said in a May 29 court filing.

Negative Impact

School lawyers have argued in both cases that the plan has had no greater negative impact on students with disabilities than on students without them.

The judge on July 9 granted a request to dismiss the city from both cases, concluding the school board, not the municipality, is the responsible party.

“The mayor’s voice may stand out among the many other voices vying for the board’s ear,” Lee said. “But strong language in a press release from the city’s top elected official addressing a topic that has been at the center of public debate fails to provide the court with sufficient facts to raise a reasonable inference that the board has abdicated to the city its statutory responsibilities.”

The judge has set aside four days for the proceeding and has and called for post-hearing briefs, the last of which is due by Aug. 7.

The first case is McDaniel v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 13-cv-03624, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). The second case is Swan v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 13-cv-03623, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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