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Teachers’ discrimination lawsuit over CPS turnaround policy cleared for trial

CTU President Jesse Sharkey said potential compensation over the firings would constitute “reparations” against Black teachers who suffered from discriminatory policies.

Woodson Elementary School on the South Side is one of the schools where African American teachers were let go “indiscriminately,” according to former teacher Vivonell Brown Jr., who appeared at a press conference about a CTU lawsuit agains the district over the practice.
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A discrimination lawsuit filed by Chicago teachers who lost their jobs when some schools had their entire faculty replaced with new teachers under the Board of Education’s turnaround policy has been cleared for trial.

The federal civil rights lawsuit covers hundreds of teachers and paraprofessionals from 18 schools that were subject to the policy between 2012 and 2014. The lawsuit contends the sacking of entire school staffs disproportionately affected Black teachers in schools on the South and West sides.

The turnaround policy targeted schools put on probation largely due to poor student test scores and attendance.

“Standardized tests reflect more on race and income rather than how well children are being taught,” said attorney Patrick Cowlin, who represents the plaintiffs.

Messages seeking comment from a CPS spokeswoman were not returned.

There have been more than nine years of legal wrangling over the lawsuit. A trial date could be set at a hearing April 8.

Vivonell Brown Jr. said he was always deemed to be an excellent or superior teacher and was respected by colleagues, students and parents at Woodson Elementary School on the South Side.

“We were told one day, abruptly, that we were all going to be kicked out of our jobs,” he said during a news conference Tuesday.

“What more does CPS want from me? Well, they wanted me out of the system, they were kicking African American teachers indiscriminately out of Chicago Public Schools regardless of how hard they worked, regardless of our backgrounds,” he said.

“I don’t care how hard I worked, the deck was stacked against me and other African American teachers.”

CTU President Jesse Sharkey called the turnaround policy “blatantly racist” that inevitably affected schools with Black students and Black teachers.

“The truth of the matter is that you can predict test scores based on demographics at schools, so then going around and using test scores to close schools that way was obviously discriminatory,” Sharkey said.

In 2006, about 33% of CPS teachers were Black, a number that decreased to 21% by 2017, according to Judge Sara Ellis’ ruling handed down March 17 that paved the way for a trial.

“We need to address the harms that were created over an entire period of time,” Sharkey said, noting the lawsuit doesn’t cover the entire eight years the turnarounds were carried out. The district began the practice in 2006 and involved a total of 34 schools.

“It normalized and made excuses for racist discrimination and we have to have a clear repudiation of that, that it was wrong and going forward it’s not going to happen again,” Sharkey said.

“Getting justice on this is critical,” said Sharkey, who equated the case to reparations for Black teachers who were wronged by the system.