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Fired Teachers Accuse CPS of Discrimination

By Erin Meyer | December 27, 2012 2:56pm
 Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. The union filed a discrimination lawsuit against CPS on behalf of African American teachers. 
Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. The union filed a discrimination lawsuit against CPS on behalf of African American teachers. 
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A trio of black teachers fired from Chicago Public Schools in "turnaround" school reorganizations say in a federal lawsuit that such housecleaning efforts are racially discriminatory.

The suit, filed Wednesday by the teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union, claims that the CPS' turnaround efforts  — in which staff and leadership is replaced at troubled schools in an aim to improve academics — unfairly targets African American educators.

CPS has focused such housecleanings on South Side and West Side schools where "most of CPS's African American teachers are employed," the suit says.

The suit says that as CPS has focused on reorganizing and closing schools it considers to be underperforming, the percentage of black teachers in the district has dropped from about 41 percent in 2000 to roughly 29 percent in 2011.

This year, the officials endorsed a plan to add 10 "failing schools" to the program: Marquette, Casals, Herzl, Marquette, Wendell Smith, Woodson South and Stagg elementary schools, Piccolo Specialty School, Edward Tilden Career Community Academy High School and the Chicago Vocational Career Academy. 

According to the lawsuit, 347 teachers and staff have been fired at those schools.

Of the total, 177 teachers, or 51 percent, were African American even though as a group, African Americans only account for about 30 percent of the CPS teacher population, according to the lawsuit.

"In terms of civil rights law, that's a disparate impact,"  said attorney Robin Potter, who is representing the teachers and CTU.

The suit claims that black tenured teachers were "singled out for termination" and replaced by teachers and staff "who, as a body, are made up of fewer African American tenured teachers and staff."

The CTU is seeking that the court grant class action status for the case to join Robert Green, dismissed from Chicago Vocational; Vivionell Brown, let go from Woodson; and Donald L. Garrett Jr, formerly of Tilden. Class action could mean that any CTU member could be a party to the lawsuit.

Green, 51, a CPS teacher for 23 years "has routinely received satisfactory evaluations," the suit says. Brown, 60, a 20-year veteran of CPS "routinely received excellent or superior evaluations." Garrett, 43, has taught in CPS for 15 years "routinely received satisfactory or better evaluations" until the 2011-12 school year when he received an unsatisfactory score, according to the suit.

Potter said the suit seeks "a moratorim on these turnarounds."

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus declined comment on the suit, saying that she could not discuss pending litigation.

However, she said in a statement:  "As a District, we have  an obligation to expand high quality school options to all families and children in every neighborhood and turnarounds is just one tool that allows us to provide those options."