DOWNTOWN — Testimony began Tuesday in federal court on two lawsuits aiming to stop Chicago Public Schools from closing 50 schools.
Pauline Lipman, an educational policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, argued that CPS does not have enough evidence about how the mass closings will affect students.
She pointed out that the school system closed about 100 schools from 2001-2012, but voted to close almost half that many in this year alone.
"We're talking about a policy ... that's an experiment," Lipman said.
Tuesday's testimony involved two federal suits against CPS, one of which calls for a one-year delay in the school closings and the other to stop the process entirely, citing in part how they would overwhelmingly affect black students.
Lipman also said that while 40 percent of students in CPS are black, 87 percent of the kids affected by the school closings are black.
"It's very clear that the school closings have a disproportionate impact on African-American students," Lipman testified before U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee.
Kristine Mayle, a financial officer for the Chicago Teachers Union, said the closings need to be delayed so the school system can give special education students a better chance to successfully make the transition.
She said CPS is rushing the process, and special education students need time to process things like field trips to their new schools, meet-and-greets with new teachers and more.
Plaintiff Mandi Swan, the mother of a 10-year-old boy with autism who attended Lafayette Elementary School, testified that when it comes to autism, children need consistency and schedules. She said she hasn't been able to acclimate her son because CPS hasn't told her who her son's teacher will be or what his classroom will be like.
"Everyone I've asked has said, 'It's an HR issue,'" Swan said.
Swan is concerned changes could make her son regress, as has happened in the past. She asked for one year before kids have to change school so students can familiarize themselves with new people and learn "what's safe."
Lucy Witte, director of Special Education for MSD Wayne Township (Ind.) schools, testified that when it comes to CPS closures, not enough thought was given to kids with disabilities. Witte, who has 37 years of experience in the special education field, said the closures will likely cause "irreparable harm" because students will regress and lose time as teachers and administrators figure everything out.
Witte said she read the individualized learning plans for three of the plaintiffs' children with disabilities and thinks their needs won't be adequately met next year. She said she had read CPS planning documents and didn't think the system as a whole was prepared to handle special needs kids when it came to the transition.
"It just sent an alarming message that they weren't prepared for their most fragile, most vulnerable learners," Witte said.
However, Abizer Zanzi, an attorney for CPS, said Witte read only three students' case files when there are 2,459 students with disabilities impacted by the transition.
Two women — CTU researcher Sarah Haines and Laurie Siegel, a former special education case manager and professional school counselor for CPS — were supposed to testify but did not. Lawyers debated what the women would talk about and whether they counted as expert testimony. The judge ended proceedings for the day and asked the lawyers to stay and work out the matter.
The proceedings are expected to last four days. Court reconvenes Wednesday.