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Judge's 'dry, cold' decision says lawsuit will not block school closings

A lawsuit filed by local school councils can’t block a Chicago Public Schools plan to close or revamp operations at 17 low-achieving schools, a Cook County judge ruled Friday.

CPS officials issued a brief statement lauding Judge Michael B. Hyman’s ruling that dismissed a lawsuit filed by members of local school councils at nine of the schools slated for closings or turnarounds, calling the decision a “win for the students of Chicago,” but attorneys for the plaintiffs said they would continue the legal battle.

“It is our responsibility to take the actions needed to provide our students with access to higher-quality school options to prepare them for college and career,” said CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler in a statement. “Last month the Board took a critical step in this direction by passing some difficult but necessary proposals that will provide 7,500 students in some of the district's lowest-performing schools with the opportunity to attend higher-performing schools.”

The ruling comes three weeks after the School Board unanimously approved the school closing and turnaround plan Feb. 22, but local school councils attorney Tom Goeghegan said CPS is declaring victory prematurely.

Goeghegan said his clients would file an amended complaint by March 23.

“The fact of the matter is the case isn’t over,” Goeghegan said. “The board has a policy of disinvesting in hundreds of schools on probation, some of the schools in the city that have some of the greatest needs. That’s an important point.”

The lawsuit, filed by Bronzeville community activist Jitu Brown and other school council members with legal support from the Chicago Teachers Union, had claimed the schools targeted for closure or turnaround were disproportionately in poor African-American neighborhoods and would lead to the layoffs of mostly minority teachers.

In the opening lines of his order, Hyman noted the irony that the title of the case, Brown v. Board of Education, mirrored the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court that led to the desegregation of public school systems nationwide.

But while the case filed by local school councils was based on sweeping allegations of racial bias, Hyman noted his ruling was on more mundane legal questions of whether the councils have a right to sue to block the closings.

The school councils had no standing to file the suit, because they were not the subject of discrimination themselves and they did not provide evidence in their suit that the school closings disproportionately harmed minorities, he ruled.

“The problems (Chicago) schools in this case face arise from a multitude of causes and social conditions. The problems are complicated because the conditions that bred them are complicated,” Hyman wrote. “Yet, before the court today is a narrow question involving the legal sufficiency of the amended complaint. As such, the answer is dry, cold, removed from the greater flow of life.”

agrimm@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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