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Class Actions Challenge Closure|of 53 Chicago Elementary Schools

CHICAGO (CN) - Chicago's plan to shut down 53 elementary schools will "needlessly uproot, transfer, and destabilize" black and special ed children, parents say in two federal class actions.

Lead plaintiff Mandi Swan sued Chicago and its Board of Education in one complaint.

Lead plaintiff Sherise McDaniel sued the same defendants in the other lawsuit.

Also sued in both complaints is Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett, in her official capacity.

In March this year, Byrd-Bennett proposed closing 53 elementary schools to save money. The plan will go to the School Board for final approval on May 22.

McDaniel claims the school closings are racially biased and will increase the racial segregation of Chicago's schools.

"The impact on African American children is in stark contrast to the impact on white children - who have been almost universally insulated from the negative educational consequences of school closings. The 53 elementary schools selected by the CEO for closing have a combined enrollment of 125 white students out of a total enrollment of 16,059 students - less than 1 percent," McDaniel and other mothers say in their complaint.

"Despite repeated false claims that the closings have some education-related purpose, defendants have for more than a decade transferred African American children to schools that are equally failing or worse, and are equally or more segregated. Since 2001, defendants have carried out school closings so as to contribute to a form of racial and economic segregation, as destructive as older forms of intentional racial segregation."

In the second class action, Swan and other mothers and children claim that the two months between the proposal and its implementation "does not permit a timely and orderly process either for the proper review and revision of the individualized education programs (IEPs) for the plaintiff children and over 5,000 other children in special education programs or for the extra services and counseling such children require to make the difficult transition to unfamiliar schools and unfamiliar teachers and students."

The complaint continues: "By putting off their decision on the closings to the eleventh hour, or the very end of the school year - for the largest closing of public schools in American history - the defendants place the plaintiff children and other children in special education at far greater risk than their non-disabled peers. The late date makes it impossible to conduct the closings without significant disruption to the programs in which these children participate and without adequate provision for the special safety risks faced by children with disabilities. In violation of federal law, this late, ill-timed, and ill-prepared program for the closing of 53 elementary schools will have a discriminatory impact upon the plaintiff children and other children with disabilities, compared to their non-disabled peers."

The mothers add: "Defendants still have not made known whether the special education teachers who know the plaintiff children and other children with IEPs and who know and are familiar to them will be reassigned to the receiving schools.

"There is no other information at this time as to who will teach these children.

"There is no information as to whether these children will be placed in larger classes.

"There is no information or specific plans about the supportive services the children will receive to make the transition to the receiving schools.

"There is no information about the specific safety plans for these children who are at special risk because of their disabilities.

"As a result, parents like the plaintiffs cannot make informed decisions as to where to place their children, and have inadequate time to enroll the children in different schools."

McDaniel seeks a permanent injunction against racial discrimination.

Swan seeks a temporary injunction for at least a year, until "defendants can assure an orderly process of transition."

Both proposed classes are represented by Thomas Geoghegan, with Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan.

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