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Chicago Teachers' Union Sues District Over School Closure Plan

Chicago's teacher's union today filed a pair of civil rights lawsuits in federal court on behalf of local parents to stop, or at least stall, the city school system's plans to shutter 53 elementary schools at the end of this school year.

The lawsuits come one week before the city's board of education is scheduled for a final vote on closing the elementary schools that are mostly located in neighborhoods on the city's South and West sides. The lawsuits focus on the impacts that the district's school closure plan would have on African-American students and those enrolled in special education programs.

The first suit filed on behalf of four parents, alleges that the district's plan violates Title II of the American with Disabilities Act by not allowing for enough planning time and transition for special needs students who have Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs.

The second suit also contends violations of ADA because special education students in schools slated to close would be uprooted and placed in unfamiliar environments without proper supports. Likewise, special education students in "receiving" schools would have their environments disrupted by an influx of students from closed schools, the suit says. The closure plan also discriminates against African-American students, who constitute the vast majority of students who would be affected by the closures and assignments to new schools, the suit claims.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CEO of Chicago's schools, released a statement saying the lawsuits "demonstrate that union leadership is committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our kids. Thousands of children in underutilized schools are being cheated out of the resources they need to succeed. It's time to give these children the opportunity to attend higher-performing welcoming schools and put them on a path to thrive."

The union's lawsuits come on the heels of recommendations from a panel of retired federal and state judges who urged the district to halt the closings of 13 schools that are currently in the closure plan. The judges were hired by the school system to conduct public hearings on the closure plan and make recommendations.

Chicago's school closure plan is considered the largest ever to be undertaken by a single district in one year. The plan has sparked a pitched battle that has included numerous protests from students, parents, the teachers' union, community members, and local clergy.

Meanwhile, in the District of Columbia today, a federal judge rejected the claims of plaintiffs that the planned closures of 15 schools would violate the rights of black, Latino, and special education students.

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