The Crusader Newspaper Group

Urban Prep: “CPS trying to destroy Black institution”

After Cook County Judge Anna M. Loftus announced she would delay ruling whether to allow CPS to initiate a hostile takeover of nationally-acclaimed Urban Prep Academies, Dennis Lacewell, founding principal, said he believes the judge will rule based on the law and not CPS’ baseless allegations.

Lacewell was referring to Illinois State law, Section 105 ILCS 5/34-18.69, which states: “The Board shall not approve any school closings, consolidations, or phase-outs until the Board of Education is seated on January 15, 2025,” when there is an elected School Board.

Lacewell said what CPS is trying to do without facts is to “dismantle and shut down a Black institution” in violation of the state’s moratorium.

Following allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, the Chicago Board of Education voted last October to revoke Urban Prep’s charter. The state School Board denied an appeal last April, giving the impression a CPS takeover of Urban Prep’s Englewood and Bronzeville Academies will become a reality.

After two decades of graduating Black boys, armed with 100 percent college scholarships, Urban Prep officials have been plagued by false allegations by CPS that school officials mismanaged finances, and forced founder Tim King to resign based on being involved in alleged sexual misbehavior with a student.

Addressing CPS’ charges that Urban Prep mishandled finances, Lacewell said, “Those issues were of the past. In January 2022, we received a letter from CPS saying they were pleased with where we were financially, and a month later we got a letter talking about these past issues,” which he said existed when Bruce Rauner was governor.

“There has been no issue where CPS is investigating us of any wrongdoing. This has been going on for three years. No one has been charged of any wrongdoing. It’s CPS putting words on paper with no evidence of wrongdoing,” Lacewell said.

Judge Loftus made her announcement on Tuesday, June 6, delaying her ruling to further study the brief presented by Urban Prep Academies’ lawyers. The brief involves CPS’ vow to take over Urban Prep’s Englewood and Bronzeville Academies, turning them into CPS schools. Loftus is scheduled to make a ruling on Wednesday, June 14, on Urban Prep’s Temporary Restraining Order, filed after losing their appeal last April.

A CPS takeover is not going to happen without a fight. Lacewell, Chief Academic Officer of Urban Prep Academies, said. “We are not going to give up on our community, our families or our students; so, we are in it for the fight if necessary.”

Lacewell is not alone in his fight against the CPS vow to take over Urban Prep Academies. Joining him is Craig Wimberly, president of the prestigious Coalition of African American Leaders (COAL). “We have called on the governor and the mayor to address this situation because they both have the power,” said Wimberly.

“We want them to continue the charter and stop CPS’ takeover of Urban Prep Academies,” he said. “We successfully educate our boys and young men at a better rate than CPS. We have 100 percent acceptance to college. No one can match that. CPS is set to shut down Urban Prep at the end of June, and we cannot accept this.

“It would be high crime and treason for us to allow CPS to shut down a school that educates our boys and young men better than CPS does,” said Wimberly.

Lacewell told the Chicago Crusader  in an interview late Tuesday, June 6, “It is clear that CPS is breaking the law. We are hoping that the judge will stop this illegal action that CPS is trying to commit because it’s impacting our families and our students.”

Lacewell, Chief Academic Officer of the Academies for the past six years, said they will fight all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to save the nation’s only Black-managed, all Black, boys charter school.

The court battles have been distracting, but Lacewell said it has neither broken their spirit nor their will to fight for justice to clear their name and to save the Urban Prep Englewood and Urban Prep Bronzeville academies from a hostile CPS takeover.

“If you look at any data base, we are out performing CPS in terms of the graduation rates for Black boys. Our graduation rate last year was 91 percent versus CPS’ rate of 65 percent for Black boys, and traditionally we have outpaced CPS,” Lacewell said.

Referring to a study conducted by the University of Chicago on college enrollment rates before the pandemic, Lacewell said, “Our enrollment college rates were above 75 percent while CPS was at 48 percent.” He said the University of Chicago’s survey concluded, “Our schools are being well organized, particularly the Englewood campus, for three consecutive years.

“We are doing well, and to close our schools based on financial mismanagement allegations by the CPS doesn’t make sense,” said Lacewell. “For the past 17 years, we have had clean audits, and for the past three years we’ve exceeded the reserves required by CPS.

“We met their financial score card methods, yet they are going backwards to the fiscal years when Bruce Rauner was governor when there was no budget for two years and bringing up fiscal mismanagement allegations.

“Back then, CPS cut budgets twice; so instead of our firing teachers and cutting programs, we got some non-traditional loans and credit cards, but we didn’t do anything illegal. We paid those off without default or penalties,” Lacewell said. “To go backwards almost 10 years to say we had financial mismanagement is totally disheartening.”

When asked why CPS wants to take over Urban Prep Academies Lacewell said, “The student enrollment in the city has been down tremendously as Black families are leaving the city. The impact on enrollment is on all schools. We successfully educate our young Black students, and CPS wants that money back.

“They are the ones with financial mismanagement,” Lacewell said, referring to a CPS anticipated $628 million budget gap in the 2025-2026 school year, as projected by CPS officials. “They are trying to piece that (deficit) together, and one way is to get those 400 Black students back.”

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