Ten members of nine local school councils Thursday filed a lawsuit with the Circuit Court of Cook County seeking to stop the Chicago Public Schools Board from closing or turning around their neighborhood schools.
With financial and legal backing from the Chicago Teachers Union, the LSC members allege that CPS is targeting a disproportionately high number of schools with predominantly African American student bodies for these actions.
"The suit alleges CPS has violated Illinois School Code; and has violated the civil rights of the plaintiffs under the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003," the union said in a press release Wednesday.
During a heated press conference held in the lobby of the Chicago Board of Education building Thursday morning, plaintiff and Walter H. Dyett High School council member Jitu Brown called the board’s proposed actions “racist.”
Here’s more from the press conference:
“[These actions] are happening in predominantly African-American and Latino schools,” Brown said after the press conference. “There are schools that are struggling that have large populations of non-black students. [I’m] not suggesting that these actions should happen there, but there have been no actions at those schools.”
According to the official complaint, the student population in the 17 schools targeted for closure and turnaround is 83 percent African-American.
Union attorney Tom Geoghegan, who spoke at the conference, said the board has not taken the proper legal steps before considering closing or removing the staffs from the schools in question. Geoghegan said Illinois law requires CPS to put these schools on a one-year probation while they work with the local councils on improving school performance. As elected officials with certain rights guaranteed under state law, Brown and the other plaintiffs say the board illegally excluded them from that process.
“They’re supposed to tell us what we need to do to improve our schools as members of the LSC,” said Janice Beckham, another plaintiff and local school council member at Guggenheim Elementary. “Why is there a deaf ear to that? They talk about removing the LSC, removing the principals, removing the staff. They need to think about the fact that they are responsible for what’s happening in our schools today.”
While the Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the school closings and turnarounds on February 22, the plaintiffs are only "seeking injunctive relief from the actions, not the vote," according to Geoghegan.
Thursday’s complaint comes a day after the CTU filed another racially charged Civil Rights suit against CPS with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which alleges the school board laid off a disproportionate number of black teachers last summer. The teachers union said that last year 43 percent of the teachers laid off were black, while black teachers only made up 29 percent of CPS's tenured teachers.