Board of Ed votes to close 3 charter schools, one sues

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Students from Amandla Charter School in Englewood rally outside the Chicago Board of Education office Wednesday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Within a month of notifying four charter schools they were in danger of closing, the Chicago Board of Education unanimously voted Wednesday to shut down three of them.

That means Amandla Charter High School, 6800 S. Stewart; Betty Shabazz – Barbara A. Sizemore Academy Elementary School, 6936 S. Hermitage; and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter Elementary School, 8 W. Root St., will close for good in June.

Thanks to a delay written into its contract, CICS – Larry Hawkins High School, 801 E. 133rd Place, won’t be voted on until December.

Bronzeville Lighthouse promptly sued CPS and CEO Forrest Claypool for breach of contract, saying its contract spelled out how CPS was supposed to assess their performance, a process they say CPS didn’t follow. It’s asking a judge to halt the closure.

Unlike district-run schools, whose closings are regulated by a state-mandated months-long process that includes public hearings, the charters are governed by a different law that lets CPS keep them open or shut them down.

“These tools have always been at our disposal but this administration is choosing to administer those tools,” CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson told the six board members at the meeting. She said that while Amandla and Sizemore did make some improvement, they failed to meet goals they laid out in remediation plans. Bronzeville Lighthouse has had a low rating over several years, Jackson said.

She said the district moved so quickly to give affected students time to consider applying to high-performing CPS programs that have a Dec. 11 deadline. However, she asked the board to vote before CPS had any transition plans ready for those students.

CPS has faced criticism for opening dozens of new charter schools as it close its own schools, saying it couldn’t afford to keep them all open. Even now as it stares down a $480 million deficit that could result in mass teacher layoffs by February, the same Board of Education voted last month to add two new charter schools in September and to allow a third to expand.

Board members asked a lot more questions than usual about the schools and CPS’ options for helping them, but ultimately all voted to revoke the charters of Amandla and Shabazz and to not renew Bronzeville Lighthouse’s.

All four schools, which serve mostly poor students in predominantly black neighborhoods, tried Wednesday to make their case to be given a second look at their only opportunity for public comment.

Amandla’s students and teachers had even huddled in the rain before the meeting with a giant magnifying glass, asking the board to take a closer look at their school that serves almost all low-income children and a high percentage of special education students.

“Amandla outperforms comparison schools in the neighborhood,” cofounder Sarah Brennan said. “Simply put, our students do not have a better option in the area.”

Shabazz – Sizemore took issue with how CPS altered the standardized test scores it used to judge its schools. Principal Danielle Robinson pleaded with the board not to take a safe, stable school away from students who had landed at Sizemore after their previous schools were closed.

“What does this say of the schools in our area?” she asked.

And Bronzeville Lighthouse pleaded for an opportunity to improve. Since its charter needed renewing, they had no remediation plan to follow.

“All we’re asking from you is a chance,” teacher Bessie Porch said, crying so hard she couldn’t speak for a moment. “Give us a fighting chance. That’s not something you’ve done with us.”

Chicago Lighthouse Charter School lawsuit

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