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King Elementary Should Remain Open, Hearing Officer Says

 A boy holds a sign at a King Elementary school closure meeting on April 11. On Sunday, Hearing Officer Bernetta Bush recommended the school be kept open.
A boy holds a sign at a King Elementary school closure meeting on April 11. On Sunday, Hearing Officer Bernetta Bush recommended the school be kept open.
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

TRI-TAYLOR — Citing potentially dangerous conditions for students and overall poor planning, a Chicago Public Schools hearing officer recommended William H. King Elementary be taken off the school closure list.

“The transition plan submitted by the CEO for King does not adequately address the academic and safety concerns that would exist for King students as a result of the closure and therefore is not in compliance,” officer Bernetta Bush’s report stated Sunday.

Underutilization and low performance rates originally pushed King onto the closure list. But many parents and faculty members, including Principal Shelton Flowers, argued the school was being used almost to capacity.

King Elementary's Second CPS Closing Meeting
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

Bush’s report found that CPS did establish that King was underutilized. But she found CPS’ plan to transition students to the nearby Jensen Elementary lacking.

“While these measures may work ideally for some communities, they are generic in form and fail to provide site specific analysis that addresses the academic and high risk safety concerns raised by the King community,” Bush wrote.

Her concerns about increased gang activity near Jensen as well as the school’s proximity to registered sex offenders mirrored those of parents and teachers at King’s school closing meetings.

Bush also noted that the CPS Office of Safety and Security (OSS), responsible for providing a school closure safety plan, did not present at the April 26 public hearing.

CPS General Counsel James Bebley, however, responded in a letter that "it is my view that the Hearing Officer’s reported conclusion is incorrect."

Bebley said that although safety wasn't addressed at the hearing, "student safety and security factor into the CEO’s consideration even if not addressed in testimony by OSS at the public hearing."

Bebley said "the draft transition plan issued for the proposal to close King identifies supports for the safety and security of students" and noted that CPS was "reviewing and updating school safety audits; reviewing security personnel allocations to ensure proper coverage; reviewing school safety technology and enhancing systems as appropriate; addressing any safety concerns raised by students and staff; providing Safe Passage program supports, and providing a transition security officer to assist with safety and security needs as deemed necessary."

He also said CPS would provide "supports for English Language Learners" and  said the students who attend Jensen "will receive state mandated transitional bilingual program services and CPS staff will assist Jensen in serving students based on their language and learning needs."