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Judge Loftus rules in favor of Urban Prep

In a 25-page judgment, a Cook County Circuit Court judge late Saturday, July 22, ruled in favor of Urban Prep Academies, which had hauled CPS into court after its charter was revoked last October. Urban Prep officials said the revocation was an effort to take over the all-boys, Black-managed school and merge the 400 students into CPS’ system.

That cannot happen after Presiding Judge Anna M. Loftus ruled that CPS did violate Illinois moratorium law 105 ILCS5/34-1869, which states that the “Board shall not approve any school closings, consolidations, or phase-outs until the Board of Education is seated on January 15, 2025.”

The Court ruled that CPS acted outside its statutory jurisdiction by attempting to shut down the Urban Prep-Englewood and Urban Prep-Bronzeville schools, when Illinois law clearly states that cannot be done until after 2025.

“This is a victory not just for the Urban Prep community, but for anyone who has supported our cause for the last two decades and believes in Urban Prep’s successful education model tailored for young Black and brown men,” said Troy Boyd, chief operating officer, Urban Prep Academies.

Dennis Lacewell, chief academic officer of Urban Prep, said he is grateful and thankful for his students, their families and employees that “justice prevailed.” “From the very beginning, we believed that CPS was breaking the law of the state’s moratorium” on school closings.

He is grateful for the ruling that will enable them to “continue on with the 18 years specifically working with Black boys in our community of Chicago, preparing them to have a four-year college option available to them, which affords them more access and opportunities,” Lacewell told the Chicago Crusader.

“Unfortunately, according to the College Board, in this country only 30 percent of African American males graduate from high school with minimum requirements to be admitted to college,” Lacewell said.

“Since I first graduated the first class in 2010, 100 percent of our African American males have gained the minimum requirements to be accepted to college as they’ve all been accepted to a four-year college,” Lacewell said. “This is important for this work is able to be continued and not to be defunded or tried to be replicated against work that has and will go on by an institution that has already done it for 18 years.

“We hope to partner with the mayor’s new administration and the Board,” Lacewell said. “Hopefully, they will release our students that they have taken into their system and projected to their schools.”

He hopes CPS will release their first-quarter disbursement and their buildings. He wants to have a positive relationship with CPS for the sake of the students and not “this adversarial relationship.”

“I am extremely pleased that the judge ruled as we expected,” said Craig Wimberly, president of the Coalition of African American Leaders (COAL). “This is a big win for the education of our Black boys and young men. It is a big win for Urban Prep Academies and its curriculum, centered on Black achievement, strong character building and excellent outcomes.

“It is a big win for Urban Prep students and their families who benefit from said curriculum, which provides a path to college for 100 percent of its graduates,” Wimberly stated. “It is a big win for the rule of law over naked political maneuvering, and it is a big win against systems that devalue our community, our institutions, and Black voices.

“Congratulations to the Urban Prep team in fighting the good fight. The community stands with you,” said Wimberly.

While appreciative of the ruling, Attorney Victor Henderson scolded city and state officials for not coming to the aid of the Urban Prep students. “It’s a travesty that the powers-that-be in both state and city government refuse to protect the educational interests of the young Black men at Urban Prep, and that the Court system is the only place where these young men can get relief.

“All city residents, especially Black people, need to rethink who they vote for and why,” Henderson warned.

Boyd said, “’We are grateful that our right to operate has been sustained; however, we need for CPS to recognize the court’s ruling and move now to address the needs of our students who have been hanging in limbo for months.”

To ensure a successful transition for the 2023/2024 school year, Boyd is asking the Chicago Board of Education to move quickly and release its first-quarter funding disbursement to Urban Prep and to re-assign Urban Prep students who have been redirected to the school CPS planned to open and which is modeled after Urban Prep.

Also, Boyd is asking CPS to share their plans and continue the building improvements that have begun on their facilities. He said parents and Urban Prep students should watch for direct communication by mail, phone and email from Urban Prep and be sure to reaffirm their commitment to the school of their choice.

He made it clear that both Urban Prep campuses, in Bronzeville and Englewood, will be open for the fall of 2023 in their current locations and are enrolling students of all grade levels for the upcoming academic year. He said the Circuit Court also ordered CPS to renew the charters for both campuses for the 2023/2024 school year by the end of the first semester of the 2023/2024 school year.

Since Mayor Brandon Johnson has appointed six new members to the Board of Education, Boyd is looking forward to cultivating a new, positive relationship. “We anticipate working with the Johnson administration, the newly appointed Board and CPS administrators as partners in providing educational opportunities to the most at-risk demographic in this city,” said Boyd.

He boasted that for the 14th consecutive year, 100 percent of the seniors from Urban Prep have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. He said seniors from the Class of 2023 have been accepted to 313 colleges and universities and have amassed more than $25 million in scholarships and grants to date.

“Our goal is continuing to work with CPS to establish an agreement that keeps Urban Prep open for years to come,” said Boyd.

The Court agreed with Urban Prep, which contended that CPS lacked statutory authority to non-renew their Urban Prep-Englewood and Urban Prep-Bronzeville charters because the moratorium outlined in 105 ILCS 5/34-18.69 had stripped CPS of that power.

The Court ruled that CPS’ October 26, 2022, decision to non-renew the charters of Urban Prep-Englewood and Urban Prep-Bronzeville is void and invalid.

This is another victory for Urban Prep. A previous victory was won when the Illinois Appellate Court stayed CPS’ revocation of Urban Prep’s charter until the case is fully adjudicated. That ruling allowed the nationally acclaimed Urban Prep to remain open until the case is fully adjudicated.

The Court ruled that the Illinois moratorium did apply to charter schools and that the Board cannot approve any school closings, consolidations or phase-outs until the Board of Education is seated on January 15, 2025.

Though this case was slowly matriculating through the court system after CPS’ non-renewal of Urban Prep charters, CPS dis-enrolled students from both Urban Prep schools and transferred them into the new receiving school, named Bronzeville Englewood High School, managed for the District by two educators they have already hired. The Court ruled that would be a school consolidation, which is against Illinois’ moratorium.

The Court ruled against CPS’ argument that “there is no net change” in the number of schools and said that the Urban Prep schools will have two campuses and that the students would be educated at the two campuses, but there is one less school. The Court called this logic “shortsighted because the non-renewal or revocation of the charter of a charter school is in effect a closure of a school.”

CPS has not yet responded to the Chicago Crusader‘s request for comment.

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