CTU, parents sue in state court over illegality of Board of Education closing vote on 11 schools

The Chicago Teachers Union and the parents of students at ten of the public schools slated for closing next month sued the Chicago Board of Education in the Circuit Court of Cook County on May 29, 2013 charging that the Board did not have the power to override the recommendations of the hearing officers. In each of the cases chosen by the union's lawyers, a hearing officer, a retired state or federal judge, had found that the Board had violated the law in recommending the closing of the schools. Nevertheless, the Board, at its May 22 meeting, voted to close all of the schools, based not on the hearing officers' recommendations but on the recommendation of "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett.

Flanked by parents of some of the children affected by the upcoming school closings, attorney Robert Bloch describes the lawsuit against the closings filed by the union on behalf of the parents on May 29, 2013. The lawsuit charges that the Board of Education did not have the legal right to override the recommendation of its independent hearing officers in voting on May 22 to close the ten schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The ten schools are:

-- Kate S. Buckingham Special Education Center

-- John Calhoun North Elementary School

-- Edward C. Delano Elementary School

-- William H. King Elementary School

-- William J. and Charles H. Mayo Elementary School

-- Garrett A. Morgan Elementary School

-- Anthony Overton Elementary School

-- Graeme Stewart Elementary School

-- Joseph Stockton Elementary School

-- Williams Multiplex Elementary School

The lawsuit asks that the court issue an injunction against the closing of the ten schools this school year. The basis for the legal request is the analysis that the hearing officers were empowered to override the claims of CPS and that the Board of Education was therefore required to follow the recommendations of the hearing officers, not allowing the Chief Executive Officer to override the findings of the hearing officer. Instead of honoring the analysis of the hearing officers, the Board of Education's six members voted on May 22 to close all ten of the schools despite the hearing officers' findings.

Two parents discussed why they are joining the lawsuit, and CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey spoke for the union In answer to reporters' questions about the Board of Education's claim that the union is "defending a failed status quo," Sharkey pointed out that for the past 17 years the status quo has been mayoral control, and that CPS had closed 72 public schools prior to the 2012 - 2013 school year, with little or no positive impact. Later, a CPS spokesman repeated the "failed status quo" talking point in a statement emailed to some media outlets (Substance is blacklisted from the selective CPS Office of Communications official calls and emails).


The Chicago Teachers Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday that seeks to keep 10 schools from being closed down, the third such action aimed at reversing the Board of Education’s approval last week to close 49 elementary schools and a high school program.

Unlike two federal lawsuits filed by parents that among other things allege discrimination, the CTU's lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court argues that Chicago Public Schools did not follow proper procedure in the 10 closures.

The lawsuit contends that CPS ignored the recommendations of independent hearing officers who opposed the closings on the grounds that the district did not follow state law or its own guidelines for shutting down schools.

Under state law, the district should have abided by those recommendations, argued CTU attorney Robert Bloch.

"The law bars them from closing a school where the hearing officer goes through the process to issue a ruling and determines the school closing plan does not comply with the district's own guidelines," Bloch said. "The board is not permitted to close that school then in that school year."

District officials have contended the hearing officers' recommendations for each closing were non-binding.

On Wednesday, CPS issued a statement that accused the CTU of being "committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools."

"Now is the time for every adult from every community to come together and support our children to ensure they have a safe and smooth transition to their new, higher-performing welcoming schools with the resources needed to succeed and thrive in the classroom," the statement read.

The hearing officers were retired judges mandated by state law to take testimony and issue recommendations on each school closing.

In the case of one proposed closing, the officers concluded that parents were not given adequate notice. In five other schools, they said the district did not have adequate or detailed safety plans.

Hearing officers questioned the under-utilization argument at two schools, and they did not believe CPS's assertions that students at two more affected schools would be transfered to better-performing schools.

The two federal lawsuits, filed with CTU's backing prior to the Board of Education's vote, both seek a court injunction to stop all the planned closings.

One suit claims CPS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to set up an orderly process of closings for special-needs children. The second suit argues that the closings disporportionately affected African American students and special-needs children.

The district on Wednesday filed a motion to dismiss the two federal lawsuits, which have hearings scheduled for July.

Wednesday's suit focuses on the following 10 schools: Williams Elementary, Buckingham Special Education Center, King Elementary, Morgan Elementary, Stewart Elementary, Stockton Elementary, Calhoun North Elementary, Mayo Elementary, Delano Elementary and Overton Elementary.


May 30, 2013 at 5:29 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Lawsuit against Chicago school closings

Earlier here the question came up whether the Board had the legal right to override the report of a hearing officer on school closings. After consideration, I agreed with the position taken by Rod Estvan -- the Board must follow the hearing officer, not its own whims. The lawsuit will make this clear.

May 30, 2013 at 2:53 PM

By: Rod Estvan

The complaint is strong

This complaint filed yesterday is I think relatively strong, it's straight forward and simple. Its remedial request is only what the law requires. I agree with its claim that the appointed hearing officers made for each of the 10 schools a finding that CPS did not follow the requirements of state law. The CTU should be commended for filing this complaint.

Mr. Bloch will however have to amend the complaint because his legal cite is in error. At page 2 of the complaint the relevant law was cited as 115 ILCS 5/34 -230(h)the correct cite should be 105 ILCS 5/34 -230(h). Mr. Bloch out of force of habit cited the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act instead of the School Code.

Rod Estvan

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