RIVER NORTH — Parents and union teachers have filed suit against school closings, using Chicago Public Schools' own hearing officers' reports as legal leverage.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court by Chicago Teachers Union General Counsel Robert Bloch, seeks an injunction against 10 of the 50 school closings the Board of Education approved last week.
The suit cites 10 schools where hearing officers specifically argued against closings, and it accuses CPS of violating its own policy on the closing process in going against those opinions.
"The board's own handpicked hearing officers ruled that closing these 10 schools would violate CPS' own guidelines in the school-closing law," Bloch said. "Under the law, the hearing officer's ruling is final. There's no appeal ... if it does not comply.
"In each of these 10 cases, the Board of Education simply ignored its own hearing officers' rulings and voted to close these schools," Bloch added. "The public hearings on school closings were just for show."
The closing process authorized by the General Assembly last year called for extensive hearings and for reports on those schools. Hearing officers argued against 13, saying 10 had not met closing guidelines and two closings should be delayed a year over safety concerns, while arguing strongly against another.
In each case, CPS General Counsel James Bebley issued a response to "respectfully disagree" with the findings of the retired state and federal judges who acted as hearing officers.
Two of those schools were indeed saved at the bell: Manierre and Mahalia Jackson. The suit seeks to save 10 others, but does not cite Williams Multiplex for both its elementary and high-school programs, as the hearing officers did.
The 10 elementary schools cited are Williams, Buckingham, King, Morgan, Stewart, Stockton, Calhoun, Mayo, Delano and Overton.
"You're the one who chose the judges," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said. "And now you've broken every single one of your own rules, the procedures you agreed to, and you're not even following the recommendations of these retired judges."
CPS issued a statement in which it ignored the legal issue of whether the hearing officer's ruling on compliance was final.
"We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child, but union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools," said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. "Now is the time for every adult from every community to come together and support our children to ensure they have a safe and smooth transition to their new, higher-performing welcoming schools with the resources needed to succeed and thrive in the classroom."
"Closing schools is the status quo," Sharkey replied, pointing to how CPS had already closed 72 since 2002. He suggested CPS change the status quo by actually supporting its existing schools with additional resources.
"CPS, they broke the law," said Lakecha Green, a King parent. "They don't have an adequate safety passage for these children. They have not walked this walk."
King students will be shifting to Jensen Elementary if the school is closed, and Green said her son would have to walk "through enemy territory" in gang turf.
The suit cited the hearing officers' safety concerns at King, Buckingham, Morgan, Stewart and Stockton, utilization concerns at Calhoun and Mayo and school performance at Delano and Overton, as well as inadequate notice provided to Williams.
Bloch said the suit was entirely separate from federal suits filed against the closings this month by attorney Thomas Geoghegan.
"This suit involves the school board failing to follow its own guidelines and arises under state law," Bloch said.
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and an injunction to stop the closings, set for fall.