Judge closes the book on community group's lawsuit over school closing

By Jonathan Bilyk | Mar 9, 2015


A federal judge has tossed litigation brought against the Chicago Public Schools by an organization purporting to represent the students and parents of a closed elementary school on the city's North Side.

On March 3, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman granted CPS’ request to dismiss the suit filed by Friends of Trumbull, saying the third-party organization lacks standing to sue over the decision to shutter the school because it does not fall within the “zone of interests” laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Administrative Procedures Act.

“Friends (of Trumbull) essentially argues that ‘the breadth of these provisions’ allows more or less anyone to sue ‘based upon discrimination against individuals’ as long as the plaintiff is in some way ‘associated’ with the individual victims,” Feinerman wrote in his opinion. “That is a breathtaking proposition.”

The case stems from CPS’ decision to close the school at the intersection of West Foster and North Ashland avenues in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, along with more than four dozen others in 2013.

At that time, CPS said the closures were necessary to help close a large budget hole and used a "utilization" formula to select schools to shutter. Essentially, CPS wanted to keep schools open which, under its formula, could be shown to be about 70 percent full. Schools with utilization rates less than the target percentage were in jeopardy of closure.

According to CPS calculations and formula, Trumbull's utilization rate was at about 54 percent, with only 389 students in a school with “an ideal enrollment” of 720.

In response to the decision to close the school, the organization, Friends of Trumbull, enlisted three Trumbull families and sued, asking the courts to order CPS to keep the school open.

In its complaint, Friends of Trumbull alleged CPS had improperly calculated the “ideal enrollment,” failing to account for the large percentage of Trumbull students in special education programs, which may require lower class sizes, and, in turn, suppress the number of students who can be enrolled at the school.

This, the plaintiffs said, constituted discrimination against students with disabilities, and violated federal law.

The court, however, denied Friends of Trumbull’s request for injunctions, and the school closed as planned in August 2013.

In the months following, the Trumbull families participating in the litigation each reached settlements with CPS, leaving Friends of Trumbull as the only named plaintiff on the suit.

CPS then asked Feinerman to dismiss the suit on the pleadings, asserting Friends of Trumbull lacks standing under federal law.

Friends of Trumbull argued it should be allowed to continue with the litigation as it was suing on behalf of Trumbull students who may have been “aggrieved” by the closure.

Feinerman, however, said this interpretation of the ADA’s “any person aggrieved” language was “expansive” and not supported in precedent.

He noted Friends of Trumbull neither asserted “that advocating for children with disabilities is its primary mission, or that its membership is primarily composed of parents of such children,” nor “that it was denied any services whatsoever.”

Further, Feinerman said Friends of Trumbull’s standing arguments are undermined by the decisions of the families to settle with CPS and drop their individual complaints.

“To bring a claim based purely on Trumbull students’ rights, Friends (of Trumbull) would have to show both that it ‘has a ‘close’ relationship with the’ students and that ‘there is a ‘hindrance’ to the [students’] ability to protect [their] own interests,” the judge wrote.

“That the students themselves were once plaintiffs in this case easily defeats the second requirement, and with it Friends’ bid for third-party standing.”

More News

The Record Network