African-American Chicago Public School Teachers/Staff To Receive Settlement Funds in Discrimination Lawsuit

In 2012 and 2015, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and three teachers filed lawsuits against the Chicago Board of Education (the Board) challenging the Board’s “turnaround” policies and termination of hundreds of African American teachers and paraprofessional staff, alleging the turnarounds had a disparate racial impact and were a pattern or practice of race discrimination.  The Chicago Teachers Union alleged the Board targeted South and West side schools with disproportionately higher African American teachers and staff. All employees at turnaround schools were terminated. Yesterday, the Court entered an order granting final approval of the $9.25 million settlement of both lawsuits.

Those eligible to receive a  settlement payments are “All African American persons employed by the Board of Education of the City of Chicago as a teacher or para-professional staff, as defined in the labor agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education, in any school or attendance center subjected to reconstitution, or “turnaround,” in the 2012, 2013 and/or 2014 calendar years.”

To receive a settlement payment, claim forms must be submitted to the settlement administrator by Friday, September 9, 2022. Claim forms can also be emailed to attorney Patrick Cowlin at pcowlin@fishlawfirm.com or faxed to 312-205-1702. More information about the case can be found at  https://www.fishlawfirm.com/ctu/.

The Chicago Public School teachers/para-professional staff and the Chicago Teachers Union were represented by Robin Potter and Patrick Cowlin of Fish Potter Bolaños, P.C. and Randall D. Schmidt of Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School.

“This has been a challenging but necessary court battle and part of the CTU’s determination to ensure all students and staff have the schools Chicago deserves. The named plaintiffs and other CTU members have shown great courage throughout this 10-year fight for justice,” said Patrick Cowlin.

From 2006 to the present, approximately 34 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were subjected to a “turnaround” by the Board, which fired and replaced all faculty and staff from a school, irrespective of their performance. Almost all 34 school “turnarounds” occurred in the South Side, Southwest Side, and West Side high school or elementary networks, disproportionately affecting African American teaching and staff. Eighteen (18) of those turnarounds occurred between 2012 and 2014.

Schools on the North and Northwest Sides met the Board’s turnaround criteria but were not selected. According to the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, the Board’s turnaround criteria (mainly standardized test scores) had a disparate racial impact and did not actually measure the effectiveness of educators. Rather, the criteria largely reflected the race and income level of the students. In addition, it would have been more beneficial to students and far less discriminatory to invest in the schools, teachers, and students instead of terminating an entire school’s faculty and staff – something the Chicago Teachers Union advocated for years.

Racial segregation in the Chicago Public Schools system is severe and systemic and contributed to the disparate impact turnarounds caused because African American teachers and staff were concentrated in schools targeted for turnaround.

Turnarounds are one aspect of many years of school actions disproportionately impacting black teachers, staff, and students. From 2001 to 2009, under a practice begun by then CEO Arne Duncan, the Board closed roughly 86 schools. In 2012, it turned around ten (10) schools on the South and West sides of Chicago. In 2013, it closed another 49 schools and turned around five (5) schools. Although the average racial mix of the population of all schools was 41.6% black, 88.6% of the schools closed were black.

The African American teaching force in CPS as a percentage of the overall teaching population steadily declined from 40.6% in 2000 to 29.6% in 2010. In 2011, African American teachers were approximately 28.7% of the tenured teaching population. By the fall of 2014, of the 22,519 teachers at CPS, 24.3% were African- American, and 49.7% were white. Today, the percentage of African American teachers is approaching 20%.

The lawsuits alleged that the drastic decline in African American teachers corresponds directly with the Chicago Board of Education’s intentional actions, policies, and practices that have phased out, closed, combined, or reconstituted purportedly poor-performing schools in the African- American community.

“The Chicago Teachers Union was an indispensable partner to our firm and co-counsel over the course of these cases,” added Cowlin. “These teachers and para-professionals dedicated their lives to educating the community’s children. They deserve our support, and they deserve to work in an environment free of bias.”

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