On March 23, the board filed three separate lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court against the Illinois State Charter School Commission over the state commission’s decisions to grant state charters to three South Side charter schools – the Amandla Charter School, Betty Shabazz International Charter School and Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School – which the Chicago board had voted late in 2015 to close at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
According to the court documents, the Chicago board had determined the three schools had fallen short in their core mission of educating students. At the Shabazz school’s Sizemore Academy, for instance, students in grades 3-8 ranked in the 14th percentile in reading and in the 8th percentile in math, performances the Chicago board’s lawsuit called “shocking” and “dreadful.” And at Lighthouse, students ranked in the 7th percentile in reading, while Lighthouse’s “diverse learners” rated in the bottom percentile for “reading and math growth,” a result the complaint said was “astonishing.”
The board had voted in November 2015 to close the schools. As part of that action, the lawsuits said, the Chicago board had arranged for students from the schools to land at other nearby, more highly performing Chicago public schools, which the lawsuits described as “far superior schools.”
And the lawsuits further noted the charter schools’ budgets also did not proper account for how much more of their own money the schools will need to spend as a “Local Education Agency” which “no longer will receive support from (the Chicago Board of Education) for a wide range of services.”
But the charter schools last December appealed the Chicago schools board’s decision. And, despite having reached the same conclusions regarding the charter schools’ performances, the state commission on March 17 granted all three of the schools new state charters – decisions the Chicago board said exceeded the state commission’s authority under Illinois law.
“The (Chicago) Board concluded that Lighthouse’s failures required the Board to close (the schools) at the end of the 2015-16 school year,” the lawsuits said. “The Commission, however, concluded that it had the legal authority to issue a state charter to (the schools), even though the Commission itself concluded that (the schools) failed to meet the Commission’s own standards of academic performance.
“Put simply, the Charter Schools Law does not grant the Commission the power to charter and operate schools that the Commission itself agrees do not provide an adequate education to students.”
Essentially, the Chicago board said the commission argued it had the power to act, regardless of other factors, if it believed students from closing charter schools had “no better options.” The Chicago board accused the commission of using a “distorted” analysis using “manipulated data” to justify its decision to grant the state charters.
The Chicago Board of Education asked the court to put the commission’s March 17 order on hold and then declare the commission’s order “null and void.”
The Chicago Board is represented in the action by attorneys James Franczek Jr. and Nicki B. Bazer, of Chicago, and Ronald L. Marmer, who serves as the board’s general counsel.