ACLU of IL Asks Court to Maintain Desegregation Agreement for Chicago Public Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
March 21, 2003 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–Saying that it is crucial to keep in place a voluntary agreement designed to combat historic racial segregation in Chicago’s public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and a coalition of civil rights groups today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in federal court asking that the agreement remain in place.

“The Chicago public school system has failed to meet the legal or educational tests necessary for the immediate removal of the federal court from overseeing the voluntary agreement,” said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director of the ACLU of Illinois.

“A strong string of cases dating back to the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education nearly 50 years ago set out tangible goals that must be met for a decree to be dismissed. Chicago has not reached that point as yet, as a full and complete review by the court will demonstrate.”

Today’s brief was filed in response to a request from U.S. District Court Chief Judge Charles Kocoras, who in January asked interested parties whether the agreement should be maintained or vacated in light of demographic changes in Chicago since 1980. The ACLU and others assert that the agreement, which has been court-supervised and in place for more than two decades, has made a critical difference in the lives of students in the school system and any move to vacate the agreement would do a great disservice to them.

The coalition of civil rights groups assert that the lack of a factual record and the lack of an opportunity for participation by the public and community groups in considering the future of the desegregation agreement argues against the court taking the extreme step to immediately vacate the voluntary agreement.

The coalition’s brief instead asks Judge Kocoras to conduct a complete, factual review of the school system’s compliance with the agreement. Furthermore, the brief asks the court to consider the impact on students — particularly students from ethnic minority neighborhoods — if the decree is vacated.

Chicago public schools and the U.S. Department of Justice forged the voluntary agreement in 1980. Under the terms negotiated by the parties, school system officials agreed to desegregate the student body, integrate the system’s faculty and staff, establish magnet schools, provide bilingual education and create remedial and compensatory education for minority students.

Today’s brief raises doubts, however, about whether the school system is in compliance with the terms of the original agreement. The desegregation plan, for example, called on school system officials to maximize the number of integrated and desegregated schools (those schools where at least 30 percent of the student body was white) and to ensure that no school in the system would have a student population of less than 30 percent minority. According to the 2000-2001 Annual Desegregation Review, however, only about 15 percent of all students enrolled in the school system attended stably integrated or desegregated schools, or schools with potential for racial change such as magnet schools, scholastic academies and metropolitan high schools.

Additionally, today’s brief notes that the school system has fallen far short of meeting the goal of integrating faculty in its many schools. The goal called for faculty integration at a racial ratio in each school building that differed by no more than 15 percent from the racial population of the entire district population. A monitoring commission, charged with overseeing the school system’s integration efforts, reported in 2002 that compliance on faculty integration was “deplorable.”

“While there is not a complete record to judge the degree to which the student population and faculties in the public schools of Chicago have been integrated in compliance with the voluntary agreement, the data available to us at this time is not promising,” said Maria Valdez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “It is clear that the vestiges of segregation remain in Chicago public school facilities and the court should fully analyze this data before any decision is taken to vacate the consent decree.”

The friend-of-the-court brief filed today was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Southside Chicago Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. and Designs for Change.

Attorneys Gary Johnson and Justin K. Schwartz in the Chicago office of the Jones Day law firm authored the brief on behalf of the civil rights coalition.

To read a copy of the coalition brief please go to http://www.aclu-il.org/mailings/3.03amicus.pdf

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