Legal challenge to appointed school councils to go forward

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • March 28, 2008 @ 8:00 AM

A parent-led legal challenge to a Chicago Public Schools decision to replace some elected school council members with CPS appointed members will go forward, a Cook County circuit judge ruled Thursday.

In a hearing on the parents' request for an emergency injunction, Judge Sophia Hall rejected arguments by CPS attorney Bill Morgan, who said the parents, members of three local schools councils, have no legal authority to sue the district.

The parents are seeking to force the district to include the School of Technology, at 7529 S. Constance, and the School of Entrepreneurship at, 7627 S. Constance, in upcoming LSC elections next month. A third school, Mose Vines Academy, at 730 N. Pulaski, was also named in the suit, but has since been slated for closing.

State law says small and alternative schools without an existing LSC are not required to have one. The district is free to encourage parental representation in any way it chooses.

At the schools affected by the lawsuit, CPS has done that with an appointed, rather than elected, LSCs.

The plaintiffs are arguing their schools had existing elected LSCs; CPS disagrees.

Both the technology and the entrepreneurship schools are smaller programs housed within the campus of the former South Shore High School.

Elected LSCs are comprised of six parents and two community representatives serving two-year terms, plus the school principal and two teachers appointed by the Board of Education. High school LSCs also include a student representative.

Among other responsibilities, LSCs have the authority to hire and fire school principals, so their membership is closely scrutinized by school officials.

At small and alternative schools, LSCs members are appointed  by  CPS  Chief Arne Duncan and approved by the board of education.

Hall heard 90 minutes of arguments from both sides on Thursday and declined to dismiss the parents' case.

She said she will issue a ruling on the parents' motion for an injunction by April 11. LSC elections are scheduled for later that month.

Plaintiff Rev. Charles Walker, an LSC member at Mose Vine Academy, was moved to tears by the decision.

"I'm happy," says Walker, who has called for the removal of the principal and two teachers at Mose Vines. "All I can say, I'm happy."

Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), was also encouraged by the ruling.
"I think, the fact is, we've got her attention," said Woestehoff, who is not directly involved in the suit. "We've heard she is a very careful judge and cares about these issues."

The plaintiffs, who are being represented pro bono by Elaine Siegel and Benjamin P. Kailin of E.K.B. Siegel and Associates, claim that when designated "small" schools are created in larger school buildings where elected LSCs already existed, the LSCs should remain elected bodies.

If Hall rules for the parents, Woestehoff says, it will mean that all of the district's so called "turnaround schools" will have elected LSC members, even those being operated by the private nonprofit Academy for Urban Schools Leadership (AUSL), which will operate three of six turnaround schools in the city next fall, including Orr High School.

When Orr High School began its split into three schools in 2003, which brought the addition of Mose Vine, and South Shore High began its split in 2002 to add  the School of Technology and School of Entrepreneurship, school officials switched to appointing the schools' council members.

The result has been a heated battle between school officials and the LSC members.

"We've got to make sure we've got the right principals with the right teachers," says Walker, who has a grandson attending Mose Vines. "We've to monitor them."

Correction: This story  has been corrected to reflect that the  school district was represented by attorney Bill Morgan. An earlier version gave an incorrect name. Additionally, the article has been updated to clarify a description of the state law governing Local School Councils.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.