The injunction hearing regarding the closings of around 50 Chicago Public Schools began Tuesday July 16 and continued through Friday July 19, 2013. The Board of Education of the City of Chicago has been brought to court by parents from the school district and teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union because of the disproportionate affect the closings will have on disabled students and African American students. U.S. District Judge John Lee will hear the case and decide whether or not to halt the closure of the schools. If the Judge allows the case to proceed and denies the district’s motion for a dismissal, the trial could be set for months away, after the scheduled start of Chicago schools on August 26.
On Thursday, July 18, 2013, an expert for the plaintiffs on Chicago gangs, John Hagedorn testified regarding the dangers students will face commuting to their new schools. Hagedorn testified that the gangs have already started posting warnings on Facebook that the new students better stay off their turf. He said that the proposed school closings are “already aggravating gang conflicts” and that “it is likely a child will be shot and killed” if the closings go forward.
The routes the students must now take cross over gang boundaries and put the children in the front lines of gang wars. Many of the students reside in the notoriously gang-ridden south and west sides of Chicago, making their treks to the new, farther schools extremely dangerous.
School officials explained that the driving force behind the school closings was the underuse of the buildings, not race as claimed by the plaintiffs. They blame the decreasing African American population in many of the areas in the district for the decrease in enrollment in the schools. The school officials and officials for the school district testified that this decline in enrollment is why more heavily African American-populated schools are being affected even though they represent a minority in Chicago.
While on the stand, CPS budget director, Ginger Ostro, explained that the school district is facing a $1 billion deficit in the next fiscal year if the underused schools are not closed. The closings would save $40 million which, along with tens of millions more, would be spent on the displaced children and the schools that are taking those children in. Ostro states that this will help focus the budget rather than spread it too thinly across a lot of schools.
The school officials claim that in order for the district to determine which schools were to be closed, they looked at schools with class sizes that were too small in comparison to the school’s capacity. However, Plaintiffs argue that schools with larger special education programs typically have smaller class sizes for the students.
“I think it’s very clear that the board did not consider the special protected classification of special education kids and African American kids impacted by the closings,” Robin Potter, attorney for plaintiffs, said outside the courtroom. “So the more special education kids a school has the more underutilized it is. It is an inherently discriminatory policy.”
A ruling from U.S. District Judge John Lee on the preliminary injunction request is not expected for several days.
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A special thank you to Cathryn Ryan, an intern at Cullen and Dykman LLP., for her assistance with this blog post.