Chicago Parents Take ‘Racist’ School Closings to Court

Miles Kampf-Lassin

The fight against school closings in Chicago that started in the streets is now being taken to the courts. Today, parents of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, with the support of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), filed two civil rights class action lawsuits in federal court against the Chicago Board of Education. The suits allege violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Illinois Civil Rights Act, and seek an immediate halt to all plans to close Chicago schools. The plan to close 53 Chicago schools—the largest mass closings of public schools in U.S. history—has already been met with resistance from city residents, parents, students, teachers and activists who claim that the closings will endanger the health and safety of students, primarily those of color, and result in the lack of academic opportunities for those affected. The CTU has said that the closings are part of a broader attack on public education by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and reflect an ongoing effort to privatize Chicago schools, break teachers unions and shift city resources from poor to higher income communities. The first suit filed today charges that those responsible for carrying out the school closings are violating title II of the ADA by putting special needs students at risk: 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. The second suit goes farther, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Section 5 of Illinois' civil rights law, as African-American students will make up over 80 percent of the students who will have to change schools, while they represent just 42 percent of the children in CPS: By repeatedly selecting African American students to bear the costs of the closings, the defendants have unlawfully used “criteria and methods of administration” that have the “effect” of subjecting the plaintiffs’ children and other African American children represented by the plaintiff parents to discrimination because of race. CTU President Karen Lewis stated as the suit was filed, “We hope the courts listen to these parents and act swiftly to stop this assault on our schools, our students and our communities.” In filing the lawsuits in court today, these parents and the CTU are opening a new front in their ongoing campaign to stop each and every planned school closing in the city—a formidable challenge when taking on the forces of City Hall, CPS and the Board of Education. But, as last September’s Chicago teachers’ strike illustrated, the CTU is not to be counted out, even in the toughest of circumstances.    Three consecutive days of large-scale marches against the school closings are scheduled to begin on Saturday.  

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Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is a Web Editor at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @MilesKLassin

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