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Trumbull Supporters Hope Lawsuit Changes How CPS Handles Disabled Students

By Adeshina Emmanuel | August 13, 2013 11:48am
 A mock "For Sale" sign put in front of Trumbull in May after the Board of Education voted to close it.
A mock "For Sale" sign put in front of Trumbull in May after the Board of Education voted to close it.
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Friends of Trumbull

ANDERSONVILLE — A federal judge might issue a ruling Tuesday in a discrimination lawsuit brought by parents and supporters of Lyman Trumbull Elementary School who seek an injunction to halt the shuttering of their school, which the Chicago Board of Education voted to close in May.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feinerman "may issue the ruling" in the case at a scheduled 4 p.m. hearing Tuesday at the Dirksen Building, his courtroom deputy said.

The suit's plaintiffs are two Trumbull kids with disabilities, their mothers and the pro-Trumbull community group Friends of Trumbull

The suit claims that the utilization formula Chicago Public Schools used to determine what schools would be closed did not take disabled students into account.

"Defendants have refused to adjust their utilization formula, insisting instead that the children be treated as if their disabilities did not exist, and as if they could and should occupy classrooms of a size not permitted by their disabilities," said the suit, which names the Chicago Board of Education and its CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett as defendants.

School officials have acknowledged that the space-use formula did not account for special education students' particular space needs, but deny this was done to single out or discriminate against kids with disabilities and insist the students will receive reasonable accommodations at receiving schools.

Lawyers for the school district argued that the plaintiffs "must prove that they have been denied the benefits of a service, program, or activity offered by a public entity 'because of' their disabilities. They must prove harm. Because Plaintiffs cannot make this showing, no violation has occurred," according to court documents.

If students "are not being denied a free and appropriate public education ...  their only possible argument is that the 'service, program, or activity' being denied them is the ability to attend Trumbull. This argument fails because ... students do not have the right to attend a particular school," CPS lawyers argued, according to court documents.

Wendy Katten, a CPS parent and director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education said that ethically, at least, the Trumbull supporters make a strong case — but she would “be surprised if they win the case, to be honest.”

“Only because I don't know that the law is on the side of plaintiffs in school closings cases,” said Katten, who has followed the case closely and attended hearings. “Children with disabilities should not be left out of a formula to calculate space — and that's what happened here.’

Katten added that even if the plaintiffs don’t win, “there should be enough information to show that children with disabilities have been left out of the space utilization formula and that that formula needs to change, or it should change for ethical if not legal reasons.”