Chicago’s Urban Prep can stay open as lawsuit fighting its closure continues, appeals court rules

CPS voted last fall to close the all-boys charter school, but a judge Friday put the closure on hold, granting the school a first victory.

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Urban Prep Academies ceremony

Urban Prep Academies, whose annual college signing ceremony is pictured, will stay open during a lawsuit challenging its closure.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times file photo

An Illinois Appellate Court on Friday ruled that a Chicago charter school focused on Black male students will be allowed to stay open as a lawsuit challenging its closure moves through Cook County Circuit Court.

This is a major win for Urban Prep Academies, said Craig Wimberly, president of the Coalition of African American Leaders. COAL has been fighting for Urban Prep. It’s the city’s only all-male charter school operator, once celebrated nationally for getting all its seniors, who are almost all Black, into college year after year. It currently has two CPS campuses, one in Englewood and another in Bronzeville, with about 380 students enrolled before classes ended for the year. CPS budgeted $8 million for Urban Prep this past year.

Urban Prep is challenging the revocation of its charter by CPS, saying a state moratorium prevents the school district from closing schools until 2025.

The Board of Education voted to revoke Urban Prep’s charter after it found only one-third of teachers are certified; a failure to provide special education services for disabled students; and financial turmoil and mismanagement. Officials also lambasted the charter operator for refusing to sever ties with its founder and executive director after allegations of sexual misconduct involving a student were substantiated by the school district’s inspector general. The Illinois State Board of Education this spring also denied an appeal of CPS’ decision by Urban Prep.

The appellate court granted a temporary restraining order that prevents CPS from taking over the school until the resolution of Urban Prep’s lawsuit. The school district is planning to open a new school this fall in place of Urban Prep with the same mission and values. A principal has already been chosen for that new school.

Chicago Public Schools released a statement calling the order “disappointing.”

“We will be looking to bring this to a final conclusion as soon as possible in the best interest of students,” a CPS spokesperson said.

Wimberly said that while he was gratified by the court’s decision, he still wanted Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to explain why Urban Prep had its charter revoked. He said he was encouraged by the court ruling, adding he and his organization are more focused on the moral question.

“Morally, how can you tell the hundreds of Black boys and young men that your school that you are proud of … should be shut down,” he said. “This school, managed and operated by Black men that look like them. Our community must challenge the system that does not prioritize the education of our kids.”

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ.

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