Chicago School Closings Unlawful?


With summer coming to an end, parents and children alike often worry about the upcoming school year: new teachers, new classrooms, a whole new experience. However, the Chicago Public School (“CPS”) District has added to the concerns of many Chicago parents and students due to their plan to close 53 elementary schools and one high school program.

The Board of Education of the City of Chicago (the “Board”) is currently facing three lawsuits regarding the school board’s decision to close these schools and program because of the disproportionate effect the closings are likely to have on disabled students as well as African American students in the city. Two of the lawsuits, both filed on behalf of parents and backed by the Chicago Teachers Union (“CTU”), are being heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and the third has been filed by the CTU in Cook County Circuit Court.

The first suit focuses on the impact on disabled students and asks for a delay of at least a year before Chicago Public Schools is allowed to carry out its closing plan. It charges the Board and CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett with violating Title II of the ADA in their proposal to close 53 elementary schools. The complaint alleges:

The late date makes it impossible to conduct the closings without significant disruption to the programs in which these children participate and without adequate provision for the special safety risks faced by children with disabilities. In violation of federal law, this late, ill-timed, and ill-prepared program for the closing of 53 elementary schools will have a discriminatory impact upon the plaintiff children and other children with disabilities, compared to their non-disabled peers.

With over 5,000 children in CPS special education programs, parents fear that holding off closing decisions until so close to the start of the new school year will force children with special needs to be rushed into new and unfamiliar schools without adequate counseling and support services.

“Let’s slow down and do this sensibly,” says Denise Burns, the mother of a student living with a disability. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to delay the school closings for a period of one year.

The second suit charges the Board and Byrd-Bennett with violations of Title II of the ADA for their proposal to close “so-called ‘under-utilized’ schools and needlessly uproot, transfer, and destabilize plaintiffs and thousands of other children in special education who will suffer academic and emotional setbacks as a result,” and adds a claim of racial discrimination in violation of Section 5 of the Illinois Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”) as parents seek to block the Board from continuing to affect African American children in school closings. The suit reads:

In conducting closings since 2001, 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. For the 72 schools that defendants have closed to date, African American children make up more than 90 percent of the displaced children; and in currently proposed closings, they make up more than 80 percent of the displaced children. Yet African American children constitute only 42 percent of the children in the public schools…The 54 schools selected by the CEO for closing have a combined enrollment of 125 white students out of a total enrollment of 16,059 students – less than one percent.

This suit requests a permanent injunction against the closings as parents seek to prevent the continuation of the Board’s alleged discriminatory closing practices.

The third suit was filed by CTU in Cook County Circuit Court and seeks to keep 10 schools open at least temporarily.

Stay tuned for updates as the hearings take place over the next few days.

A special thank you to Cathryn Ryan for her assistance with this blog post.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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