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Closure of Stewart, Stockton Opposed by CPS Hearing Officer

By Jen Sabella | May 7, 2013 11:33am
 About 150 students and teachers marched from Stewart to Stockton on a neighborhood tour against closures.
Organizers Say Stewart School Closure is Another Word for 'Land Grab'
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CHICAGO — Two Uptown schools slated for closure should stay open until Chicago Public Schools can establish a better plan for the students, according to hearing officers who attended community school closure meetings in recent months.

Stockton Elementary is slated to close, but students there would stay put and teachers from Ravenswood's Courtenay Elementary would take over the Stockton building, according to the CPS plan. Parents, teachers and students at Courtenay were shocked to hear of the plan, since the school isn't "underutilized" and it's in good standing academically.

A hearing officer at closure meetings for the Stockton and Courtenay community issued a report  released late Monday saying that CPS should not close Stockton and relocate Courtenay — at least not yet.

"Since a definitive safety plan will not be ready until late August 2013, CPS should consider delaying the implementation of the proposal until the 2014-2015 school year," retired Judge Charles R. Winkler wrote. "CPS should address and consider the plea to keep the Courtenay model intact: a 100 percent enrollment without boundaries."

Courtenay currently accepts students from across the city. Following the merger, it will assume Stockton's neighborhood boundaries, meaning Courtenay's out-of-boundary families will have to send younger siblings to a different school.

"Transforming Courtenay into a neighborhood school slams the door shut on sibling preference. Having my children attend two, or eventually three, different schools is ludicrous and a hardship, like this entire proposal," Mila Cohen, the mother of a second-grader at Courtenay, said during an April hearing.

Stockton, with about 500 students, is on academic probation, with lower ratings than Courtenay, which has about 300 students. The Stockton building also recently underwent more than $12 million in renovations.

The same officer opposed the closure of Uptown's Stewart Elementary and transfer of its students to Brennemann Elementary despite low turnout at public  meetings about the plan. CPS said Stewart is "less than half full" and needs more than $16 million in maintenance — a figure that was later disputed.

Some parents worried about clashes when the Stewart and Brenneman student populations are blended: "I can tell you from personal experience, from student's mouths to my ears, that they are afraid to go," said Stewart music teacher Reggie Spears.

Hearing officer Winkler agreed.

"Will an understaffed Chicago Police Department be able to provide enough officers to assist the Stewart children?" Winkler wrote. " Will CPS hire a private security company to furnish properly trained personnel?"

The CPS hearing officers' reports were released online just before a midnight deadline Monday, and 13 were found to come up short of various state requirements for closing.

Hearing officers opposed the closing of Buckingham, Calhoun, Delano, Mahalia Jackson, King, Manierre, Mayo, Morgan, Overton, Stewart, Stockton, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle School. (Read the reports here.)

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

In written responses to the hearing officers' recommendations, CPS General Counsel James Bebley said he "respectfully" disagreed with the recommendations, saying the hearing officers exceeded their "authority by failing to apply the law and Guidelines as promulgated."

The Chicago Board of Education is expected to take a final vote on the closures on May 22.