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Gresham Elementary Turnaround Could Lead to Civil Rights Lawsuit by NAACP

By Wendell Hutson | June 4, 2014 5:03am
 Walter Gresham Elementary School, 8524 S. Green St., is slated to become a "turnaround" school next school year.
Walter Gresham Elementary School, 8524 S. Green St., is slated to become a "turnaround" school next school year.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

AUBURN GRESHAM — The president of the South Side branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said her group might file a civil rights lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools for its decision to make Walter Gresham Elementary School a ''turnaround.''

The nation's oldest civil rights organization launched an investigation Monday, which it expects to wrap up by the end of the month, into whether an April 23 vote by the Chicago Board of Education to turnaround Gresham, 8524 S. Green St., was fair.

"If not, we will ask the school board to reverse its decision, and if they decline then we would recommend to our national headquarters to file a civil rights lawsuit against CPS," Rose Joshua, NAACP branch president, told DNAinfo Chicago Tuesday. "Our investigation will show if CPS followed the law when it decided to make Gresham a turnaround. And it will show how did CPS come to this decision."

Wendell Hutson details the latest development in the turnaround saga at Walter Gresham Elementary:

When a turnaround occurs, the nonprofit Academy of Urban School Leadership assumes management of the school, and the entire staff, including the principal, must re-apply for their jobs. The academy already runs 29 CPS schools with 17,000 students.

She added that she expects to submit a formal request this week to Chicago Public Schools to review the school improvement plan CPS had in turning around Gresham.

All the back-and-forth decisions made by CPS about Gresham's future was an injustice to students, said Joshua, who is also an attorney.

“Gresham has been in limbo for over a year without any notice from CPS that it would be a part of a turnaround plan,” she said. “First it was considered for closing. Then it was to co-locate with a charter school, and then the turnaround was announced. It was only two or three months ago that they decided to turn Gresham around and that is just unfair."

Joel Hood, a spokesman for CPS, did not return messages seeking comment.

But the district has said the school was failing and needed dramatic intervention.

"We are committed to ensuring all of our students have access to a high-quality education, and right now that is not what the students at Gresham are receiving," CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement issued in April.

The NAACP involvement follows a complaint filed last week by the Gresham Parents, Students and Community United for Change group.

"This is a fight to save our school," said Tiffany Walker, a member of the parents' group. "Our children's lives are at stake here."

Gresham Principal Diedrus Brown said she supports what parents are doing on behalf of their children.

"I would do the same thing if I had children at Gresham," Brown said. "These children's civil rights are being violated and something has to be done to stop it. And people don't realize it but when a school is turned around it has devastating effects on children."

Besides Gresham, two other elementary schools are also slated to become turnarounds this fall. The turnarounds come a year after CPS closed nearly 50 underutilized schools. Joshua said most of the closings were schools whose students were predominately black and Latino.

"I believe the school actions were discriminatory," Joshua said. "Minorities were the only group of people affected by the school closings."