Case Closed: US Judge Refuses To Halt Chicago School Closings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A federal judge ruled Thursday that he won't order a halt to public school closings in Chicago, a decision that followed days of sometimes emotional testimony on the issue last month.

In his 54-page ruling, U.S. District Judge John Lee says parents who requested the injunction failed to prove kids forced to attend new schools "would suffer substantial harm as a result of the school closures."

On Monday, Lee denied class-action status to the two main civil lawsuits at the center of the dispute that pits parents and the teachers union against Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third largest school district.

That ruling already ensured nearly all of the around 50 elementary schools slated for closing would stay shuttered as the new school year starts this month. Thursday's ruling affected only half a dozen schools.

Last month, both sides presented four days of testimony to Lee, with district officials arguing the closings would free up resources and would help them improve public schools as a whole.

The district has denied allegations by some parents that race played a role, insisting that a looming $1 billion deficit and the underuse of many buildings - not race - drove decisions about which schools to shutter.

And Lee wrote that claims black children were inordinately impacted by the closings ignored that most underused schools are in African-American neighborhoods that have seen the sharpest population declines.

Lee noted that the Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, has more than 510,000 classroom seats available but only slightly more than 430,000 students enrolled - thanks in part to falling populations in parts of the city.

"CPS has too many seats, too few students to fill those seats and decreasing resources to allocate to the schools within the system," he wrote

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett applauded the judge's ruling, saying in a statement that it supports the district's belief that every child in every neighborhood deserves access to a high-quality education.

"We are committed to ensuring that every child can live up to their potential and we look forward to continuing to work with parents, principals, teachers and our school communities on a successful start to the new school year on August 26 and putting our children on a path to a brighter future," she said.

In their lawsuit, parents of black students said the closures will force their children to negotiate unfamiliar street gang territory, endangering them.

But Lee said the district was taking measures to see to it students walking to new schools aren't exposed to threats of violence, including by working with police to analyze gang boundaries and stepping up patrols.

Parents of kids with disabilities also argue that new schools are ill-prepared to receive their children. Judge Lee said that contention, too, wasn't supported by evidence entered by plaintiffs.

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