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CPS layoffs didn’t discriminate against black teachers, judge says in dismissing CTU’s class-action lawsuit

The judge ruled CPS was engaged in a “reasonable and practical” layoff process in 2011.

chicago public schools teacher
A teacher helps her student put his coat and backpack in his locker on the first day back to class at Roswell B. Mason Elementary School on the South Side.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A federal judge has dismissed a 2012 class action lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools that alleged discriminatory layoffs, finding the district’s procedures to be “reasonable and practical,” not racist.

The suit was filed more than seven years ago by the Chicago Teachers Union with class action status on behalf of 630 black educators who were among 1,470 CPS employees laid off in the summer of 2011.

The union argued the layoffs disproportionately hurt teachers of color at schools on the city’s South and West sides — ones with the steepest declines in enrollment — since a higher proportion of the district’s black teachers were laid off than white ones.

CPS said it determined layoffs based on falling school enrollment; if a school lost students, it didn’t need as many teachers regardless of the racial makeup of the school, where in the city it was located or who worked there, the district argued.

Despite a slight uptick in district-wide enrollment that year, CPS had lost 7.6% of its students since 2001 and 25.2% of its black students.

U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso in throwing out the suit earlier this month dismissed the notion that there were alternative, less discriminatory ways to pick the employees who would get pink slips. And if there were, he said the CTU failed to show any.

“The layoffs were not the product of intentional discrimination; rather, they were the product of a regular bureaucratic process by which the number of positions and amount of funding allocated to particular schools dropped when the schools’ enrollment dropped,” Alonso wrote, describing that process as “reasonable and practical.”

The judge said the layoffs were tied directly to the enrollment-based system and not at all to a $724-million budget deficit facing schools officials.

Alonso did, however, acknowledge that the layoffs adversely impacted the group in question. He disagreed with a CPS argument that things turned out fine for the 335 black educators who found full-time jobs at new schools, as well as others who became substitute teachers or retired, writing that “the fact remains that their positions were closed and the onus was on them to secure new ones.” He simply decided CPS had no other choice.

CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said the fact that the judge realized educators of color were hurt by the layoffs but declining black enrollment gave the district minimal options showed a wider, citywide problem.

“The mayor has control of economic development, public schools and public housing,” Davis Gates said. “Of course you’re going to have as situation where you won’t have black and brown students on the South and West sides if you tear down all their housing and don’t replace it with something affordable.”

CTU spokesman Ronnie Reese added that the union will appeal the judge’s decision, “and we dare Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO Janice Jackson to allow Donald Trump’s federal court system to decide if black educators — who look just like them — should be able to work in Chicago’s public schools.”

Judge Alonso was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement that “the district’s strength lies in its diversity, and we will continue to aggressively work to promote teacher and staff diversity in our schools. After an extensive review of records, facts, and the law, the Court agreed that the CTU’s case lacked merit.”

The teaching ranks in CPS are currently 50.4% white, 21.2% Latino and 20.7% black.