CHICAGO — Two lawsuits filed this week by black educators claim that Chicago Public Schools' firings and layoffs unfairly target African-Americans.
The first, filed by a trio of black teachers fired from CPS in "turnaround" school reorganizations, says that such housecleaning efforts are racially discriminatory, while the second alleges that the district's layoffs have disproportionately hit African-Americans in violation of civil rights law.
"Both practices — turnarounds and layoffs — have a disparate impact on African-American teachers," said attorney Robin Potter, who is representing the teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union. "Even though they are separate polices, they target the same African-American teachers and schools."
The "turnaround" lawsuit, filed Thursday with amendments to an earlier version, claims that the CPS' efforts — in which staff and leadership are replaced at troubled schools in an aim to improve academics — impacts more 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.
This year, CPS officials endorsed a plan to add 10 "failing schools" to the turnaround 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 those, 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.
The federal complaint 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 second lawsuit, filed by three other teachers who were among roughly 900 who lost their jobs in a wave of layoffs in 2011, argues that the impact of the district's layoff policy on black educators constitutes a violation of civil rights law.
It 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.
The two lawsuits, Potter said, are closely related. The turnaround lawsuit is in the spotlight now, she added, as CPS continues to argue for the need to closes schools.
"School closings are on everyone's mind, and turnarounds are like the precursors," she said. "I think people in the teaching community and the mass public think of turnarounds and school closings as two sides of the same coin."
The CTU is asking that the court grant class action status for the two lawsuits, which could make other black teachers who are union members party to it.
Potter said the suit also 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."