On December 23, the Chicago Teachers Union protested outside
eight public schools slated for a school closure or turnaround. The
high-profile demonstration took place nine days after CTU worked with
community groups like the Kenwood Oakland community organization to wreak havoc at a Chicago school board meeting.
“We’re continuing to educate the public through these direct action campaigns,” says CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.
The actions have prompted CPS to announce that they will hold public hearings on the 21 schools slated for closure, turnaround, or phase out on January 6 and 20.
“We certainly do welcome any discussion in
the community in terms of student achievement,” CPS spokeswoman Marielle
Sainvilus said about the protests.
But the Board of Education is still expected, in their February meeting, to approve the 21 schools CPS has proposed for closure, turnaround, or phase out. About 430 tenured teachers will lose their jobs because of these changes, according to information supplied by the Chicago Teachers Union.
In fact, a little noticed lawsuit against the Board of Education might represent CTU’s best chance at forcing CPS to change how they hire and fire teachers. The lawsuit – which was argued before the Illinois Supreme Court on November 23 – contends that CPS must either put laid off tenured teachers in a reassignment pool or draw up a policy that gives these teachers an inside track at vacant positions.
“Tenured teachers are entitled to fill vacant positions over new hires off the street who have no classroom experience,” says CTU attorney Tom Geohegan.
The Illinois Supreme Court meets again January 9, but there is no set date when the court might decide on the lawsuit, according to court spokesman Joseph Tybor.
The lawsuit was first launched in U.S. district court August 2010 after a summer where CPS laid off 1,289 teachers. The layoffs were largely due to a combination of budget problems and declining enrollment. But they made the teachers union irate because the laid off teachers were not placed in a reassignment pool.
A U.S. District Court granted an injunction against the Board of Education in October 2010 and the case found its way to the Supreme Court in June 2011.
The lawsuit has not really been mentioned in protests of school closings and turnarounds. But the crux of the lawsuit dovetails with the case against turnarounds and closings: That CPS is “bringing new recruits into positions that tenured teachers are equally or far more qualified to fill,” according to the CTU prosecutorial briefing.
For example, six of the ten schools slated for turnaround – where the students stay at the school but all faculty and staff are fired – are to be run by the Academy of Urban School Leadership. The majority of teachers at AUSL schools are new to the CPS system. And almost half of these teachers are emerging from the AUSL training academy and are new to teaching entirely.
Sainvilus said that CPS could not comment on the pending litigation, but she said that CPS does rehire 70 percent of the teachers let go in turnarounds.
A lawsuit in favor of CTU, though, could force CPS to either end turnarounds – or provide assurances to all those fired tenured teachers that they’ll be rehired.