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CPS Closings of Several Schools Opposed by Hearing Officers

By Ted Cox | May 7, 2013 10:13am | Updated on May 7, 2013 12:57pm
 Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — About a dozen of the 54 city schools slated to be closed by the Chicago Public Schools should get a reprieve, according to hearing officers who found CPS officials had not met required standards to close them.

The CPS hearing officers' reports were released online just before midnight Monday. In 10 cases they said CPS came up short of various legal requirements for closing the school. Hearing officers offered harsh criticism on the closing of another — without actually ruling against it — and asked a one-year delay on the closure of two other schools to allow for more time to complete safety plans.

Hearing officers formally opposed the closing of Buckingham, Calhoun, Mahalia Jackson, King, Manierre, Mayo, Morgan, Overton, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle School. A hearing officer asked a one-year delay on the closure of Stewart and Stockton, without disagreeing with the overall rationale behind the closures.

Retired Judge Clifford Meacham argued forcibly against the closing of Delano Elementary School, 3937 W. Wilcox St., pointing out that CPS never addressed that the school isn't on probation, even though the new school that Delano students would attend — Melody — is.

"Such an omission gives credence to those who believe that the process is flawed," Meacham wrote.

While Meacham did not technically rule against closing Delano on legal grounds, he concluded, "The board invites valid criticism should it approve this proposal."

James Bebley, general counsel for CPS, issued responses to the hearing officers' opinions, in each case saying, "I respectfully disagree with the hearing officer's statement," saying the hearing officers exceeded their "authority by failing to apply the law and guidelines as promulgated."

The hearing reports, found individually here, were required to be released 15 days before action on the closures, set for the Board of Education's May 22 meeting.

Hearing officer Cheryl Starks opposed the closure of Buckingham Special Education Center, 9207 S. Phillips Ave., saying CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett "failed to consider pertinent additional information on the safety impact that the long commute will have on Buckingham students."

Starks also opposed the closure of Calhoun North Elementary School, 2833 W. Adams St., saying, "The issue of safety is a major concern," and adding, "The opponents of the proposal to close Calhoun North have demonstrated through clear and convincing evidence that pertinent additional factors ... were not considered by the CEO."

In opposing the closure of both Mahalia Jackson, 917 W. 88th St., and Morgan Elementary School, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., hearing officer David Coar said, "The safety of the youngest and most vulnerable children in the school system is a very serious thing, not to be addressed with generalities and vague promises."

Retired Judge Charles Winkler, meanwhile, argued that the closings of Stewart and Stockton Elementary should be delayed a year to the fall of 2014 due to safety plans that would not be completed until August.

"Hearing-officer reports provide information that the Board of Education can use as part of a thorough review before its scheduled vote on May 22," Byrd-Bennett said in a statement. "We are grateful for the work and dedication hearing officers have brought to this process. CPS will continue to engage parents and communities, as we have from the very start, on finalizing detailed transition plans in the coming weeks."