The Edwin F. Mandel Legal Clinic of the University of Chicago and a major law firm sued the Chicago Public Schools in federal court on behalf of students with disabilities and African American students. The closing of their schools, the lawsuit claims, has a damaging and disparate impact on these students.

In one lawsuit, the lawyers state:

“In violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the defendants propose to carry out the closings of 53 elementary schools in a manner that does not permit a timely and orderly process either for the proper review and revision of the individualized education programs (IEPs) for the plaintiff children and over 6,000 other children in special education programs or for the extra services and counseling such children require to make the difficult transition to unfamiliar schools and unfamiliar teachers and students. By putting off their decision on the closings to the eleventh hour, or the very end of the school year – for the largest closing of public schools in American history – the defendants place the plaintiff children and other children in special education at far greater risk than their non-disabled peers. The late date makes it impossible to conduct the closings without significant disruption to the programs in which these children participate and without adequate provision for the special safety risks faced by children with disabilities. In violation of federal law, this late, ill-timed, and ill-prepared program for the closing of 53 elementary schools will have a discriminatory impact upon the plaintiff children and other children with disabilities, compared to their non-disabled peers.”

The second lawsuit charges the school board, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and the city not only with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, but engaging in racial discrimination:

“I]n violation of Section 5 of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003 (ICRA), 740 ILCS 23/5, and by repeatedly selecting African American students to bear the costs of the closings, the defendants have unlawfully used “criteria and methods of administration” that have the “effect” of subjecting the plaintiffs’ children and other African American children represented by the plaintiff parents to discrimination because of race. In conducting closings since 2001, the defendants have used various shifting criteria that they allege to be race neutral but that always have the effect of singling out poor and marginalized African American children to bear the educational and human costs of the closings. For the 72 schools that defendants have closed to date, African American children make up more than 90 percent of the displaced children; and in currently proposed closings, they make up more than 80 percent of the displaced children. Yet African American children constitute only 42 percent of the children in the public schools.”