Activists File Federal Lawsuit to Save Chicago, Newark and New Orleans Public Schools
By Mary Alice Miller
Marking the 60th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, a complaint filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office and the U.S. Department of Justice charge that school closings unfairly target minority communities. The suit was filed by The Advancement Project on behalf of Journey for Justice Alliance and a coalition of education justice activists in Chicago, Newark and New Orleans alleges that school closings and privatization violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act disproportionately impact African-American and Latino communities.
“In each of the cities where we filed Title VI complaints,” said Advancement Project co-Director Judith Browne Dianis in a statement, “African-American children are being uprooted, shuffled around and ultimately sent to schools that are no better than the one that closed.”
“Districts are shirking their responsibility to educate our children and instead are giving multimillion-dollar contracts to companies to do the job,” said Dianis. “In each city, African-American students’ hopes of equal educational opportunities are being dashed.”
Chicago Board of Education has closed nearly 50 district-run public schools while millions have been disinvested in the district. According to the lawsuit, although 40% of the children in Chicago public schools were African-American, but African-American children made up 88% of those affected by these closings, phaseouts and turnarounds.
Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called the mass closings a “scorched-earth policy.” The Chicago Board of Education cited declining enrollment rates for closing schools, yet in January voted to open seven charter schools in addition to 10 charters previously approved. With 15 charters opened in August last year, Chicago is on target to open 60 new charters between 2012 and 2017. Of Chicago’s 658 schools, 126 are currently charters.
School closings and turnarounds cause disruption to students, families, communities and teachers. The lawsuit describes how the entire staff of a school is usually fired and the building is often turned over to a private management company. In Chicago, the leading management company – Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL) – has a turnaround model “based on replacing school staff – often with younger, whiter and less experienced outside teachers and principals, a heavy reliance on high-stakes testing and test prep, and zero tolerance discipline policies. As a result of the combination of these policies and practices, AUSL schools have high teacher turnover rates and soaring suspension and expulsion rates.” The lawsuit details a litany of harms to student well-being and achievement.
The New Orleans lawsuit seeks to prevent the closure of that city’s last remaining district public schools.
Louisiana Recovery School District took over 80% of New Orleans district schools during the months after Hurricane Katrina, all of which have been closed or turned into charter schools. Of the 19 schools controlled by the Orleans Parish School Board, 14 are charters. The racial breakdown for New Orleans public schools is 86% Black, 7% non-Hispanic white, 4% Hispanic and 2% Asian.