Parents seeking to stop Chicago Public Schools from closing the popular National Teachers Academy in the Near South Side won a victory Monday, in what attorneys say may be the first court-ordered freeze of a school-closing measure in Chicago.
Judge Franklin U. Valderrama of the Circuit Court of Cook County granted an injunction to halt the closure of the top-ranked elementary school serving mostly African-Americans. His ruling clears the way for a lawsuit filed by four parents to determine whether closing the school violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
Valderrama said he based his ruling on a high likelihood that the lawsuit by the parents would be successful.
Some parents see the district’s proposal to close the Level 1-plus academy and in its place open a 1,200- student high school near the corner of State Street and Cermak Road as a blow against educational equity. But others said the proposal answers a long-running need for a high-achieving, open-enrollment high school in the area.
In a statement, Chicago Public Schools said it remains committed to providing a new high school for students in the Near South Side, but wouldn’t appeal the judge’s decision.
“While we strongly disagree with today’s ruling, we believe appealing today’s decision could create greater long-term uncertainty for students and we will not move forward with an appeal,” the district statement said.
At Monday afternoon’s hearing at the Daley Center, parents and supporters, some wearing “I love NTA” T-shirts, collectively breathed in sharply after the judge announced his decision.
Elisabeth Greer, one of the plaintiffs, tearfully addressed reporters afterward, saying she felt relieved.
“We felt as though we were in the right,” she said. “My kids don’t have to worry in the immediate future about getting split up and being moved.”
Opponents of the closure argued that the school didn’t meet the district’s own criteria for closure — low performance and low enrollment — but was being targeted because it served a primarily African-American community.
But other parents have lobbied hard for the high school. At a hearing about the district’s plan in July, a parade of residents from Bronzeville’s GAP community and Chinatown spoke urgently about the need for a high-quality open-enrollment option on the Near South Side.
Candace Moore, an attorney with Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, called the decision a challenge to the system of school closures altogether.
“It doesn’t just preserve a building, it supports a community,” Moore said of the decision, which she believes is the first time a court in Chicago has ordered a halt to a school closing. “From the beginning, this case has been about racial equity in the school closing process.”