Displaced Black educators call on CPS to settle civil rights lawsuits

Displaced Black educators call on CPS to settle civil rights lawsuits

Black educators held a press conference yesterday to discuss the Union’s pending federal class action lawsuits against Chicago Public Schools that challenge the district’s 2011 layoffs and school turnaround actions from 2006 to present. These acts were the result of a test-based performance policy that discriminates against African-American schools, and lives on through the district’s SQRP ratings system and a Chicago Board of Education layoff policy that continues to be racially discriminatory against African-American teachers and staff.

The lawsuits allege class-wide race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Educators today will demand the retention of Black educators in communities and schools of need, and for the district to re-establish a hiring pipeline through Chicago State University. The press conference will be held at 4:30 p.m. at Crane Medical Preparatory High School, 2245 W. Jackson Blvd.

Displaced Black teachers, teaching assistants and other staff are demanding the district settle the lawsuits to help redress CPS’ racist purging of Black educators over the last 15 years. The racist layoff, turnaround and related school action policies remain in place and have contributed to the dramatic reduction of  CPS’ Black teachers, a number that is down by half to barely 20 percent of the district’s teaching force today.

Yesterday’s press conference preceded the Board of Ed’s first meeting on hiring, developing and retaining more teachers of color in a district that’s almost entirely made up of students of color—a discussion that should have taken place decades ago.

“What is there to discuss?” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “Hire Black teachers, stop underfunding their school communities, expand programs like Grown Your Own and establish an agreement with Chicago State University and re-build the hiring pipeline.

“The fact that this meeting is taking place is a step, but it’s just one step,” Davis Gates added. “Our members demand follow through, settling these cases, and for CPS to not only be focused on hiring, but maintaining teachers in these positions.”

During a deposition in 2016, CPS Chief Talent Officer Matt Lyons documented to former Board of Ed President Frank Clark that for the years 2012-16, the district’s “budgetary layoffs” and school actions (including turnarounds) had a disproportionate effect on African-American teachers and paraprofessionals. Lyons had discussed with Clark and the Board’s chief of staff how Black students and residents in communities with population decline are disproportionately affected by “school actions and budgetary layoffs.”

Lyons testified that as a result of the discussion and data, the Board took no action, which resulted in no change in Board policy or practice. The same layoff policy is in effect today.

The impact of discrimination

Many CPS students of color today will never have a single Black teacher during their time in public school, despite extensive research showing that both Black and white students benefit from having Black teachers, and that the presence of Black teachers increases educational outcomes for Black students. There is also a disproportionate impact of REACH teacher evaluations on Black educators that contributes to turnover, and a key part of educator retention is an evaluation system that explicitly values African-American educators.

Expert witnesses in the Union’s 2011 layoff and turnaround litigation have determined that those policies and practices had a disparate racial impact on African-American teachers and paraprofessionals. This impact was the natural result of the fact that CPS was and remains segregated by race. Additionally, expert witnesses in turnaround litigation found that the criteria to select turnaround schools—probation status based primarily on test scores—have no relation to whether the mostly Black teachers and paraprofessionals being displaced are effective educators, that there is no legitimate educational benefit to displacing all of the teachers and staff in a school, and that there are equally effective, less discriminatory alternatives to turnarounds.

CPS also continues to use enrollment decline to cut school budgets and lay off school staff, setting off a vicious cycle of disinvestment and further enrollment decline. Since the introduction of student-based budgeting (SBB) in 2014, which sets a flat funding rate per students rather than funding based on student needs, schools in communities struggling with population loss have been hit even harder by budget cuts. At the same time, the Board has paid upwards of $5 million to a private law firm to fight the cases instead of addressing the important issues raised on behalf of Chicago’s African-American community.

The Union demands an end to both SBB and the district’s racist SQRP ratings system, as well as a moratorium on the Board’s racist layoff and turnaround policies, monetary damages for displaced educators, and a finding of discrimination. Both the 2011 layoffs and the turnarounds class action lawsuits are pending in federal district court in Chicago. The 2011 layoffs case is Chicago Teachers Union, et al. v. Board of Education of the City of Chi., Case No. 12-cv-10338 (Judge Alonso) and the turnarounds cases are Chicago Teachers Union, et al. v. Board of Education of the City of Chi., Case Nos. 12-cv-10311 and 15-cv-8149 (Judge Ellis).

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