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10 CPS School Closings Opposed By Hearing Officers

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 8, 2013 3:00PM

Chicago Public Schools’ wonderfully conceived plan to close 54 schools met more criticism from the panel of hearing officers hired by the school district to review the process. The panel — all of them retired federal and state judges — opposed the closings of 10 schools on the list and expressed doubts about other proposed closures.

The hearing officers made it abundantly clear in their reports (which can be read here) they aren’t happy with CPS’ bullheaded approach to the school transitioning plan and that many of the closures don’t consider the needs of children — special needs children in particular — and plans to shuttle children safely to receiving schools were poorly conceived and, in some cases, still haven’t been drafted.

Former Cook County Circuit Court judge Carl McCormick, who evaluated the closure plan for Overton Elementary in Bronzeville, said of the plan.

“This is tantamount, using a food metaphor, to the promise of an omelet with a crisp waffle,” he wrote. “Then what is delivered are broken eggs, whose contents are oozing out and a burnt pancake.”

Another retired Cook County judge, Cheryl Starks, wrote in her evaluation of Calhoun Elementary on the West side that the school district didn’t take planned development around the area into consideration for the school’s utilization. According to the Sun-Times, a Chicago Housing Authority development houses 300 children who live near Calhoun, with another 76 units set to be built.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement the evaluations “provide information that the Board of Education can use as part of a thorough review before its scheduled vote on May 22.” But CPS’ response to the evaluations indicated otherwise. The school district said the hearing officers “either misinterpreted the requirements of state law or exceeded the scope of their authority in issuing their findings.” In short, CPS is as likely to ignore a group of retired judges as they are parents, teachers and other opponents of the closings.

The hearing officers’ reports at least provided some measure of comfort to parents of schools targeted for closure that their fears about the transition plan aren’t being completely ignored. Mona Conway, whose son recently graduated from Calhoun and has a niece in Pre-K there, told the Sun-Times, “I’m grateful that somebody out there was listening to us — to our views, to our hurt, our frustrations.”

In addition to Overton and Calhoun the other schools cited by the hearing officers are Buckingham Special Education Center; Mahalia Jackson Elementary School; King Elementary School; Manierre Elementary School; Mayo Elementary School; Morgan Elementary School; Williams Elementary School, and Williams Preparatory Academy Middle School.