Hours after a Cook County judge on Monday granted a preliminary order to block Chicago Public Schools’ contentious conversion of the National Teachers Academy to a high school, schools officials backed down, saying they won’t appeal the ruling.
That means NTA will remain an elementary school and will not be converted into a new high school serving the rapidly growing South Loop — a school that was supposed to open this fall. NTA will keep its regional gifted center, and high school boundaries that changed to make room for the new high school that would also serve Chinatown and Bridgeport will change back to what they had been in the past.
In the first instance of a judge blocking one of the school district’s many school closings, CPS was ordered Monday to halt its plans to convert the top-rated elementary school’s building at 55 W. Cermak Rd.
But Monday evening, CPS spokesman Michael Passman said that “the transition will not move forward” because of “the potential disruption further legal action may create and the considerable amount of time needed to successfully establish NTA as a high school.”
It’s not clear how CPS now will make sure those neighborhoods have “a high quality neighborhood high school,” which Passman said remained a “top priority,” or what will happen with the millions that had been allocated for the conversion championed by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
NTA supporters were ecstatic after the ruling by Cook County Judge Franklin U. Valderrama, celebrating after they exited his courtroom Monday afternoon at the Daley Center.
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The ruling “didn’t just save a building,” said Candace Moore, one of the lawyers who took the case pro bono to help NTA families. “It preserves a community.”
Plaintiff and NTA mom Elisabeth Greer said after the ruling was announced that she could breathe “a sigh of relief and not worry about our community being dismantled around us.”
She and the others hoped their actions would help change the way CPS closes schools in the future.
“Because it was happening to us, a [top-rated] plus-one school, that means it can happen to anyone,” said fellow parent Anika Matthews-Feldman. CPS has closed schools in the past for poor academics or low enrollment — but neither applied to NTA.
NTA families had organized nearly two years ago to loudly fight CPS’ plans to take over their building, finally suing after the Board of Education gave its formal approval in February.
Their lawsuit alleged that CPS violated the rights of NTA students, who are mostly African-American, under the Illinois Civil Rights Act, and also broke several rules established under the Illinois School Code. CPS intended to send NTA students to the whiter, wealthier South Loop Elementary school, where a new annex is supposed to open in the fall.
As Valderrama read the conclusion of his 48-page ruling, the heads of many who packed his courtroom dressed in NTA gear fell into hands, and tears of relief rolled quietly down faces. Principal Isaac Castelaz was visibly moved.
Valderrama dismissed four accusations related to the school code, including one based on rules that CPS has to send children from a closing school to a higher-performing school. But he said he found enough merit in the civil rights argument to protect the status quo at NTA until the lawsuit could conclude.
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have adequately alleged an irreparable injury,” Valderrama wrote, citing evidence presented about the negative academic impacts not only upon closing a school but in the year before, too. “Where the phase-out or boundary reassignment is based upon impermissible criteria, courts have the authority, indeed the duty, to enjoin said action.”