Parents whose children attend the top-rated National Teachers Academy Elementary School that CPS is closing filed a civil rights lawsuit Tuesday, alleging that the closure “disproportionately burdens” the African-American students attending the school in the bustling South Loop.
Chicago’s Board of Education has approved CPS plans to phase out NTA and merge its students with the wealthier South Loop Elementary, which is about to get a new annex to alleviate chronic overcrowding.
Despite a moratorium against school closings, CEO Janice Jackson has backed the merger plans, saying they’ll create a better integrated school with new facilities that should be available to NTA families, who are mostly low-income and African-American.
But the school system has never before closed a school that was top-rated or full. Its criteria, dating back to 2011, permitted closures for poor performance or under-enrollment, according to the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court by four NTA parents and the groups Concerned Parents of NTA and Chicago United for Equity.
They’re asking the judge to halt the closure.
“CPS is taking this unprecedented action not for any education-related purpose with respect to NTA; CPS is instead bowing to pressure from wealthy interests in the South Loop, who have long targeted NTA’s building as a convenient, desirable location for a new high school,” read the lawsuit, the latest of the families’ tactics to fight the closure. “While a new high school in the South Loop may be convenient and desirable, CPS may not accomplish this goal by using discriminatory criteria, disproportionately burdening African-American schoolchildren and flouting important provisions in the law, as it has in this case.”
Illinois’ School Code requires CPS to follow certain rules before closing a school, whether gradually or all at once, rules which plaintiffs say CPS didn’t heed. Students whose schools are closed are supposed to be guaranteed spaces in a higher performing school, plaintiffs say. And the effects on African-American kids violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act, they say.
“This disparate impact on African-American students is hardly new — it follows a consistent trend through years of CPS school-closing decisions,” the suit continues. “CPS’ decision in this case once again requires African-American children, whose community fought hard to achieve the highest educational standards for their school, to bear the brunt of yet another profoundly destabilizing disruption.”
District spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement that an equity assessment CPS paid for showed that students transitioning from NTA to South Loop would be attending a higher performing school since the score behind South Loop’s rating is slightly higher than NTA’s.
Officials also said they dedicated $3.5 million to help NTA families make the transition, set to take place in September 2019, with efforts including a culture and climate committee.
“The entire 2018-19 school year will be dedicated to efforts to build a unified school community ahead of the transition and implement a thoughtful and robust plan to ensure a smooth and cohesive transition,” Bolton said.
They’ve also argued that the South Loop area needs its own open enrollment high school in the NTA building at State and Cermak that’ll give the neighborhood an excellent K-12 options.
Nothing in the statement addressed the accusations of racial discrimination.