Chicago South Shore prep school council members sue to remove fellow council member, undo council votes since April

By Dana Herra | Aug 29, 2015

Four members of a Chicago prep school’s local school council have filed suit against the other council members and have asked the court to nullify every vote the board has taken since April, claiming they illegally installed a council member to fill a vacancy and have since used that action to ram through a number of spending actions by the slimmest of margins.

South Shore International College Prep Local School Council members Henry English, Frank Horton III, Lisa Haynes and Learna Solsberry filed their complaint Aug. 19 in Cook County Circuit Court against South Shore Principal Janice Wells and the other eight members of the council. The council itself is also named as a defendant.

South Shore International is a college preparatory high school located on East 75th Street at S. Jeffrey Boulevard in the heart of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. The school’s mission statement says it immerses students in a globally-focused curriculum with the aim of teaching skills for “college preparedness, global citizenship, and medical health careers both domestic and abroad.” According to the principal’s message on the school’s website, the school is among the newest in Chicago Public Schools’ “selective high schools” and graduated its first class last year.

According to court documents, there was a vacancy on the local school council last spring, and board members entertained an appropriate motion at an open meeting in March to fill it. The board did not make an appointment in that meeting, and instead voted to table the motion. At its next meeting, in April, a vote was taken to appoint Marie Berry to the vacancy.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim Berry’s appointment was improper because there was no motion to withdraw the tabling vote first and bring the matter back to consideration. The suit also claims Berry’s appointment was made without a quorum of the board. The lawsuit claims the vote violated Roberts Rules of Order, the Chicago Public School Bylaws for Local School Councils and the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Since Berry’s appointment, the plaintiffs allege the board has passed a number of measures “by bare majority margins and barely sufficient members to constitute a quorum.” The measures include the principal’s contract and other votes regarding the school’s financial affairs.

The lawsuit does not seek any punitive damages other than “relief that [the] court deems fair, just, and equitable,” but asks the court to void Berry’s appointment and to prohibit the council from taking any action at all until an election can be held to fill the previously vacant position. The plaintiffs ask that the election be held within 60 days of the court’s judgment.

The lawsuit also asks the court to rule all the council’s actions since Berry’s April appointment are void or voidable. The plaintiffs also seek reimbursement for their attorney fees and court costs.

The suit was filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ronald G. Draper, of Chicago.

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