128 Chicago lawyers agree – opposing schools closings a matter of conscience

M E D I A  R E L E A S E

More than 125 Chicago-area Attjusticeorneys Sign “Letter of Conscience” Against Massive Chicago Public School Closings

Public interest law community expresses outrage, urges more equitable, inclusive and strategic approach

For More Information:

Patricia Nix-Hodes (708) 218-2320; Amy Smolensky, (312) 485-0053; Jill Wohl, (773) 562-0159

May 17, 2013, Chicago – 128 Chicago-area lawyers with an estimated combined 2000 years of distinguished experience and leadership working towards justice and equity in education, health, housing, employment, economic security, safety, discrimination, citizenship, juvenile justice, and civil rights signed their names to a letter urging a halt to the Chicago Public School’s proposed closings and consolidations of 54 schools – the largest school action of its kind in the nation – in less than one year.

Titled “An Open Letter Seeking Justice in the School Closing Crisis,” the letter will be delivered to Mayor Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Board of Education Chair David Vitale on Monday, May 20, 2013, and requests a response to be directed to Paul Strauss, who offered to sign the letter on the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law letterhead without hesitation.

The attorneys signing this letter cannot, in good conscience, stand by and remain silent as the Board of Education moves to vote on this potentially disastrous course,” says Strauss, “Closing this many schools in such a poorly-planned and uninclusive manner marks a dangerous precedent. It sets the civil rights in education movement back decades.”

Child advocate Stacey Platt (773-732-2554), one of the attorneys who joined the Open Letter comments “It is a sad injustice for the children and families of the City of Chicago that neighborhood schools –which parents value and children need most of all–are neglected and closed and parent voices ignored.”

The letter cites the Illinois School Code and research criticizing the outsized move to “right size” the District, specifically, that the law of the land squarely asserts that “the primary responsibility for school governance and improvement is in the hands of parents, teachers and community residents at each school.” [5/34-18.43(a)(6)] The letter also highlights the racial and economic distribution, number of homeless students, and students receiving special education services who will be adversely affected by the proposed school actions, which will be voted on by the Board of Education on May 22, 2013.

Highlights of the Open Letter:

[If carried out, these actions] will dramatically alter the school environment for vulnerable elementary students. More than 47,500 elementary students will be affected including more than 3,906 students experiencing homelessness and 2400 students requiring special education services. No such massive school closure has been attempted in the history of our City or our nation. This alone must give all reasonable people pause.

[T]his massive undertaking is being executed in advance of the delivery of a 10 year school facilities master plan, as required by Illinois law… As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. Closing schools before sharing a clear, well-thought out plan for the City’s educational and economic future signals a perilous lack of accountability from our public administrators.

Overwhelmingly and almost exclusively, the communities of Chicago targeted for massive school closures are those on the City’s South and West Side: communities that are dramatically impoverished and predominantly comprised of African Americans. Such disparity is at best unsettling and is, indeed, provoking racial and economic divisiveness. Tensions run high before the actual closures have even been approved.

The proposed removal of so many schools from impoverished communities of color has been read as an ominous statement on the prospects of those living there. It only adds to the distress and despair, creating a feeling that the City is disinvesting where economic growth and stability is so important –and that we are a City divided.”

The letter coincides with a three-day citywide march protesting the closings, and comes at the same time that numerous community groups, media outlets, local aldermen, state and county legislators and even CPS’ designated hearing officers are expressing opposition and grave disappointment in the lack of strategy, meaningful inclusion, consistency, equity and adherence to requirements throughout the planning and public vetting process conducted by CPS.

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Read the full letter here.

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.
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