CHICAGO (CN) – Chicago parents who say they helped turn around a failing elementary school in a black neighborhood are now fighting for its survival in court, asking a judge to stop the school district from shutting it down to make way for a new high school.
Earlier this year, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close the National Teachers Academy Elementary School, or NTA, and open a new high school in the South Loop of Chicago.
But parents – as well as the groups Concerned Parents of NTA and Chicago United for Equity – allege in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County that the district used racially discriminatory criteria as it pushed to offer a new school to wealthy middle-class parents in the South Loop.
Represented by Legal Assistance Foundation attorney Ashley Fretthold, the parents and groups are seeking an injunction against Chicago Public Schools to NTA’s closure, claiming it violates Illinois education and civil rights laws.
According to a lawsuit, the district decided, in the face of a wave of opposition from parents, to “displace and destroy a vibrant and successful school” and transfer students to an inferior public school, South Loop Elementary.
The district “is taking this unprecedented action not for any education-related purpose with respect to NTA; CPS instead is bowing to pressure from wealthy interests in Loop, who have long targeted NTA’s building as a convenient, desirable location for a school,” the lawsuit states.
The parents say that principals, staff, and families transformed NTA, which previously had the lowest academic rating in the district, to achieve the highest grade within the public school system. The school on West Cermak in Chicago is the former location of a public housing development. It serves 722 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The decision to close the school violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act as well as the Illinois School Code, according to the plaintiffs, and the district is required by law to transfer displaced students to a higher-performing school, something it cannot do because of the first-rate level of education offered at NTA.
Unlike NTA, the South Loop Elementary School does not provide low-cost child care and after-school care for parents and has half the number of athletic teams. Only one team allows students to play for free, the parents say. The displaced students will also lose access to free park programs and extracurricular activities, according to the complaint.
Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton did not address the lawsuit directly but said in a statement that the district is committed to engaging with parents and students to ensure the transition is smooth.
“Families throughout the Near South area have supported the district’s school transformation plan because it will create some of the most diverse school communities in the city, provide greater access to the top elementary school in the area, and, for the first time, provide area families with high quality neighborhood school options from pre-k through grade 12,” Bolton wrote in a prepared statement.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Fretthold, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.