Chicago Public Schools closings fight moves to federal court with injunction hearing

July 16, 2013 (CHICAGO)

A judge is hearing arguments in two lawsuits that seek to stop the school board's decision to shutter dozens of buildings.

Tuesday is day one of a four-day injunction hearing. Testimony is expected to be heard from parents and CPS district officials.

The battle to save schools from closing is now playing out in a federal courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building.

The two lawsuits seek to block the school board's decision to close 49 CPS schools. One lawsuit argues that the district is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to set up an orderly process of closing for special needs children.

Mandi Swan just wants more time for her 10-year-old son, who has autism, to transition into a new Chicago Public School. The CPS mother is suing CPS. She and the Chicago Teachers Union are asking a federal judge for a delay of at least a year for the 5,000 special education students affected by the closings.

"We are asking for the time to prepare to do this correctly instead of on the fly," said Kristine Mayle, special education teacher and CTU financial secretary.

Kristine Mayle testified not as a representative of her union, but as a special ed teacher. She says CPS has done little to help special ed students prepare for a new school. Her biggest concern is that individual education plans known as IEP's will not be written until after the kids start at their new school.

"My worry with that is they are going to wait for harm to be done and clean up the mess instead of doing it correctly in the first place," said Mayle.

Mayle and Swan say autistic kids need a lot of time to build relationships and adapt to new environments. Mayle fears if the transition is not done slowly, kids will drop out, or worse.

"In all seriousness, I'm not trying to be extreme, kids are going to get hurt or die," said Mayle.

The second suit alleges racial discrimination, saying the closings affect a disproportionate amount of African American students.

Both lawsuits were filed on behalf of parents and backed by the Chicago Teachers Union.

"We think that this is such a mess, it's going to do such harm that is disproportionately impacting the students who are the most vulnerable in our system that we have to stop it all together," said Jackson Potter, Chicago Teachers Union. "The parents say enough's enough. You can't disrupt the education of our children. You wouldn't do it on the North Side, you wouldn't do it in affluent areas and you shouldn't to it to us."

One of the suits asks for delays of a least a year before any closings can happen. The other suit requests a permanent injunction against the closings.

Outside the courthouse, members of Action Now rallied to stop the closings which they call racist.

"It's outright racism," said Action Now President Michelle Young. "It is what it is, it is racism, and it's not fair. We pay taxes also and it's not fair and we're not going to idly sit here and continue to take this."

Inside the courtroom, all of the seats are taken and crowds had to go to an overflow room.

There is also a third lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teachers Union trying to stop 10 schools from closing. That hearing is scheduled for the end of July.

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.