By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Hundreds of parents and students remained stunned after an unprecedented decision by the Illinois State Commission (ISC), which unanimously granted an appeal to keep open three Charter Schools that were scheduled to be closed by Chicago Public Schools.
The ruling raises the possibility of keeping open a fourth school, Larry Hawkins High School on the Far South Side, which was also scheduled to close this year. The impending closure would cause hardship to parents who would have to find transportation to send their children to school five miles away.
Tuesday’s decision was a rebuke to CPS, which announced the schools’ closing just weeks after placing them on the academic warning list. The decision angered parents and sparked a community-wide campaign to save Bronzeville Lighthouse, Betty Shabazz Sizemore campus and Amandla Charter High School.
Teachers and parents at those schools argued that CPS did not give them enough time to raise their students’ academic performance. The ISC, by a 6-0 vote, agreed with them, saying that CPS officials broke the law and that the district violated a state charter law that requires the district to notify the schools a year in advance before closing them.
The three schools will now remain open after the ISC reversed the district’s decision. The ISC also said they believe the schools were treated unfairly by CPS.
CPS abruptly changed its charter school policy in January and has since stood by its decision. The district claimed that all three schools were struggling academically for years and have all failed to meet CPS or the ISC academic standards.
At the hearing, the ISC acknowledged the schools’ academic problems, but reaffirmed their law regarding closing schools with a year’s notification. The ruling means a decrease in state money for CPS, a district that’s crippled with a $1 billion deficit.
“We are tasked with ensuring that the process of obtaining and retaining a school charter is fair and transparent,” said commission chair Derona Williams. “And I think our independent evaluators found that CPS violated state policy and really broke the trust of all schools.”
Carol D. Lee, chairman of the Board of Directors of Betty Shabazz Charter Schools, agreed.
“This is a historical precedence of having three appeals granted by the commission,” said Lee. “The heart of the decision was that CPS did not follow state charter law.”
The ruling stunned hundreds of parents who attended the hearing at Sherman Park Fieldhouse at 1301 W. 52nd Street in the New City neighborhood. Many expected the appeal would be a battle after seeing the ISC deny a number of public charter school proposals over the years.
“We had been hopeful of getting an appeal, but we did not expect a unanimous vote,” Lee said.