Chicago Teachers Union, community members ask court to stop school closings and turnarounds, Ali B.

By Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune reporterFebruary 10, 2012

With an assist from the Chicago Teachers Union, local school council members from nine city schools are asking a Cook County judge to block Chicago Public Schools from closing or “turning around” 17 underperforming schools this year.

Union attorneys, working on behalf of the community members, filed for injunctive relief Thursday, asking the court to intervene in the closings process. That may not occur before the Chicago Board of Education is expected to vote on the issue Feb. 22, union officials said. But the board vote will have no bearing on the legal aspects of the case, said union attorney Tom Geoghegan.

“We’re seeking injunctive relief from the actions, not the vote,” he said.

At a tense rally Thursday in the lobby of CPS headquarters, union officials said the district violated state law in its selection and pursuit of school closings and turnarounds, particularly on the city’s South Side. The union and several community leaders say the district’s closing and turnaround policies are discriminatory and have disproportionately affected low-income African-American students.

Geoghegan said the Illinois School Code requires CPS to work with local school councils, which include elected representatives from the community, to improve learning conditions at struggling schools targeted for closing or for turnaround, a process in which the district replaces school leadership and staff. Geoghegan said that was not done in this case, despite repeated attempts by council members to reach out to CPS.

“It is appalling how every two years or every year our school is disrupted by the idea that they’re going to close our schools,” said plaintiff Janice Beckham, a school council member at Guggenheim Elementary School in Englewood, a school on the district’s planned closings list. “Responsibility starts at the top, not at the bottom. You are responsible, Board of Education, for what is happening in our schools.”

Another plaintiff, Krista Alston, a minister and local school council member at Price Elementary in Kenwood, said “we know that there is a way to help educate our children that is better than closing our schools.”

Prior to the news conference, some school council supporters shouted down a coalition of local church leaders who staged a rally in support of CPS reform efforts in the same location. Some exchanged insults, and the pastors left the room as council members and community activists yelled, “We are the people who save our schools!”

CPS attorney Pat Rocks defended the district’s closing and turnaround methods, saying in an email that the district has “complied with the school code and provided support to these low performing schools over multiple years to boost student improvement.

“Unfortunately, these schools have not improved or have gotten worse.”

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