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CPS won’t close schools this year; may double up schools in buildings

On Thursday, the day state law requires Chicago Public Schools to set out guidelines for major school changes this year, the district said it is sticking with its five-year moratorium against closing schools for poor performance or underuse.

But it still may change boundaries for existing schools or propose putting multiple schools in one facility. And no law governs how CPS conducts its academic “turnarounds” in which the entire staff is fired and the school’s operations turned over to a private, not-for-profit company.

CPS said it reserved the right to close a school should a building suddenly become a health or safety risk.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then-CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett promised in fall 2012 that if state legislators gave them an extension on the deadline to pick which schools to close, they would not shutter more for five years. Fifty schools then were approved in spring 2013 for closure.

Two more have effectively been closed since, Marine Math and Science Academy High School and Montefiore Special Elementary School, which have no enrollment or teachers. The district says that those institutions still exist, if only on paper. Neither school went through the state-mandated process.

This year, CPS may consider co-locations if more than one school can fit in one building. And existing school boundaries may be changed to ease overcrowding if shifting boundaries don’t overcrowd any other nearby schools. In both cases, the CEO will also consider “safety and security, school culture and climate, school leadership, quality of the facility, and an analysis of transition costs.”

Several of the charter operators seeking CPS’ approval to open schools as soon as next fall are looking to co-locate with existing schools.

Meanwhile, the district will collect feedback at www.cps.edu/guidelines through Oct. 22.

After years of complaints that no one had any idea why CPS targeted certain schools for closure, state law has required CPS to publicize by Oct. 1 how it will close schools or change boundaries. By Dec. 1, the district will have to announce which boundary shifts or co-locations it intends to enact.