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Teachers Union Files New Lawsuit To Stop School Closings

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a new lawsuit in its fight against plans to close 49 elementary schools.

The suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, argued the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Board of Education should have followed hearing officers' recommendations to keep 10 of the schools open when the hearing officers found CPS did not follow proper guidelines.

The 10 elementary schools cited included Williams, Buckingham, King, Morgan, Stewart, Stockton, Calhoun, Mayo, Delano and Overton.

CTU attorney Robert Bloch said the Board of Education's vote to close 10 specific elementary schools comes despite independent hearing officers finding the closings went against the district's guidelines.

"In each of these 10 cases, the Board of Education simply ignored its own hearing officers' rulings, and voted to close these schools," Bloch said. "The Board of Education is now taking an approach that many believe it has been following all along; the public hearings on school closings were just for show. The board does not view itself as obligated to respect the rulings of its own hand-picked hearing officers."

Hearing officers raised objections to plans to close 13 schools, but in only 10 of those cases did they argue the district did not follow proper guidelines in deciding to close the school. In the other cases, hearing officers raised other concerns about the plans. Two of the schools hearing officers suggested should stay open -- Manierre and Mahalia Jackson -- later were spared from closing.

CPS officials have said the hearing officers' findings were non-binding, and filed responses to the hearing officers' reports, arguing proper guidelines were met.

Lakecha Green, whose son attends one of the 10 schools named in Wednesday's lawsuit, said the Chicago Public Schools' "Safe Passage" plan for her son's welcoming school is inadequate.

Many critics have said students being moved to new schools would be put in danger because the routes to their new schools cross gang lines.

"I don't want him to be put in harm's way. They don't have an adequate safety passage for these children. They have not walked this walk," Green said.

In response to the latest lawsuit, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said "We have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to ensure a bright future for every child, but union leadership remains committed to a status quo that is failing too many children trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools. Now is the time for every adult from every community to come together and support our children to ensure they have a safe and smooth transition to their new, higher-performing welcoming schools with the resources needed to succeed and thrive in the classroom."

The union had filed two separate lawsuits in federal court earlier this month, arguing the school closings plan violates the civil rights of minority and disabled students.

CTU has claimed the school closings are racially discriminatory because African American students are the population most affected. They've also said the closings would hurt special education students or children who are otherwise disabled, because they wouldn't get proper orientation to their new schools.

A federal judge has scheduled a four-day hearing on July 16 to decide whether to block the school closures.

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