The oft-maligned Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy of subjecting neighborhood schools to “turnaround” discriminates against African-American teachers and staff according to a federal lawsuit filed this week by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and three public school educators. More than half of the 347 tenured teachers who were terminated by CPS as a result of the most recent turnarounds are African-American. This is the second major legal action on this matter taken by the union.
The Dec. 26 lawsuit alleges that the process for selecting schools for turnaround results in schools being selected that have a high percentage of African-American teachers, compared to schools that performed similarly but are not selected for any school action. More than 50 percent of the tenured teachers terminated as a result of the most recent turnarounds were African American, despite making up less than 30 percent of the tenured teaching staff at CPS, and 35 percent of the tenured teacher population in the poor performing schools.
The complaint, a potential class action first filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August by the CTU and teachers Donald L. Garrett Jr., Robert Green and Vivonell Brown Jr., challenges termination by virtue of the Chicago Board of Education’s policy and practice in selecting 10 South and West side schools for turnaround in February 2012—effective June 2012.
“While no one wins when jobs are lost, to disproportionately affect a particular segment of the population— whether intentional or not—indicates a glaring oversight and lack of concern for what the loss of jobs does to an individual and their community,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis.
Most of the district’s African-American teachers are employed in schools on the South and West sides, where school closings and teacher layoffs have been prevalent since 2001. In the last six years, 26 schools have been reconstituted, or become turnaround schools, where all faculty and staff and dismissed and replaced. Dismissals are handed down regardless of qualifications or experience, and are followed by a CPS selection process to re-staff the school.
“CPS terminates every single employee when it subjects a neighborhood school to ‘turnaround,’ regardless of qualifications and experience,” said attorney Robin Potter. “The inequity of the most recent ‘turnarounds’ is not merely perception but a reality.”
Approximately 90 percent of students in CPS’s 578 non-charter schools are minorities. Forty-two percent of these students are identified as African-American, but the African-American teaching population has gradually declined in recent years, from 40.6 percent in 2000 to 29.6 percent in 2010.
It should be noted that once CPS “turns around a school,” one of two operators are given control over the school—either the CPS Office of School Improvement (OSI) or the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). If the school is operated by OSI, it remains subject to the terms of the CTU labor agreement, but under AUSL—a private entity—it is no longer subject to CPS policies, Board rules or the terms of the current labor agreement. The operator is responsible for the hiring process to re-staff the school.
The Board of Education approved the turnaround of 10 schools in February 2012, stating that each of the schools was selected because of its alleged poor performance. Each of these schools was located on the South or West sides of the city, where the student and teacher populations are predominantly minority.
The school district has yet to release any information on how these 10 schools were chosen from over 180 allegedly poor performing schools in the CPS system. The Board has been roundly criticized for its lack of transparency and published criteria in selecting schools for turnaround. In fact, the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, a statutorily-created oversight group, called for a complete halt of turnarounds and other school action, saying, “CPS’s historic and continuing lack of transparency and evidence-based criteria for decisions resulted in the pervasive climate of public suspicion about what drives CPS to take school actions and allocate resources, often in ways perceived to be highly inequitable.”
The federal lawsuit seeks relief for all teachers affected by the 2012 and any future turnarounds—including reinstatement and damages—and importantly, an immediate moratorium on turnarounds and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee any future turnarounds, should any occur or be permitted.