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Parents file lawsuits over school closures

CHICAGO (AP) — Parents of Chicago public school children filed a pair of lawsuits Wednesday claiming the city's plan to close dozens of schools violates the civil rights of students with disabilities and children who are black.

The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement in support of the two suits, filed in federal court in Chicago. The complaints seek an injunction against the proposed closure of 53 schools.

"School closings as policy is unsound," CTU President Karen Lewis said in the statement. "This city has worked systematically to undermine our public education system and destabilize certain communities. ... We hope the courts listen to these parents and act swiftly to stop this assault on our schools, our students and our communities."

In both lawsuits, parents claim the closures wouldn't allow enough time to prepare individualized education programs for children in special education or provide needed counseling and other services the children would need as they move to a new school. The suits claim the plan violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One of the lawsuits adds a claim of racial discrimination, saying the closures disproportionately affect black students in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he's not open to reworking the school closure plan. He and top administrators say the targeted schools are failing or are underutilized.

"Too many children today are trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools cheating them of the investments they need to succeed in the classroom," Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement issued Wednesday in response to the lawsuits. "Instead of offering up solutions, (the teachers union) continues to protect a status quo that doesn't put our children first."

The 53 elementary schools slated for closure "have a combined enrollment of 125 white students out of a total enrollment of 16,059 students," according to one of the lawsuits, which also claims the school district would "achieve little or nothing in cost savings — in the best case, less than 1 percent of the operating budget."

Black children make up roughly 88 percent of the students being moved from closed schools, although they represent 42 percent of students in the district, the lawsuit claims.

"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 lawsuit states.

The lawsuits name as defendants the Chicago Board of Education, the city and schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

The plaintiffs are parents Mandi Swan, Denise Burns, Felicia Bradley, Sherise McDaniel, Marshetta Ross, Frances Newman and Alphonso Newman. Representing the parents are the law firms of Despres, Schwartz and Geoghegan and Robin Potter and Associates, with help from the University of Chicago Law School's legal aid clinic.

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