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Shabazz-Sizemore charter school accuses CPS of changing rules for closings

Betty Shabazz-Barbara A. Sizemore elementary school is one of four public charter schools in Chicago slated to be closed in June. | Sun-Times file photo

Betty Shabazz-Barbara A. Sizemore elementary school, named as one of four public charter schools in Chicago slated to be closed in June, accused Chicago Public Schools of suddenly changing the rules for charter closings — and refusing to show them how those changes were made.

Carol Lee, board president and co-founder of Shabazz, said the school at 6936 S. Hermitage Ave. did what CPS told it to do last year: Improve its test scores and attendance for its 271 children enough to move up a notch from the district’s lowest rating of Level 3.

Furthermore, if CPS hadn’t adjusted the standardized test scores of many charters — using a yet-to-be-revealed calculation — Sizemore would have survived the new closing cutoff, school officials said.

Chief Instructional Officer Makita Kheperu is troubled that CPS wouldn’t explain the details of that calculation, saying, “They owe an explanation.”

The charter school has already reached out to legislators and to some members of the Board of Education, which is scheduled to vote on the closing at Wednesday’s monthly meeting.

Lee pointed to a letter the school had received in 2014 from Jack Elsey, who used to run the department in charge of charter schools. The letter set out conditions for Shabazz to remain open and agreed to the school’s improvement plan.

But Elsey, an appointee of disgraced former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, then left CPS and new CEO Forrest Claypool’s team has since changed those conditions.

“I think they feel they need to make a public statement about holding charter schools to high accountability standards,” Lee said. “They need to use a fair set of rules in making those determinations. They shouldn’t be changing the rules of the game.”

CPS stood by its recommendations Monday, saying it could revoke the charters under the Illinois Charter School Law regardless of district policy, and that Sizemore and others “failed to implement remediation plans.”

It said the formula — used to equalize scores for schools that tested at different times than most district schools or used a different version — has been online all along.

The closing of CPS-run schools is regulated by state law, which lays out a monthslong process involving public hearings. But the law doesn’t cover charter schools, so the district determines how and when to close charters.

The only CPS-hosted public comment session will take place at 10:39 a.m. Wednesday in the Board Room of the CPS Loop Office, 42 W. Madison St. Only supporters of the schools who managed to secure a two-minute speaking slot may comment.

All four schools that were targeted earlier this month for closing in June have made cases for their continued existence while holding CPS’ second-lowest rating.

Students from Amandla Charter School even walked from their campus at 6800 S. Stewart to the Board of Education on Friday to prove their point.

Also on the list are Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School and Chicago International Charter School’s Larry Hawkins Campus. But CICS’ specific contract permits it an extra month, so its closure won’t go for a board vote before December.