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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 1:19:51 PM CST

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Karee Magee/MEDILL

Parents and students fought for Calhoun North at the public hearing three weeks ago. The hearing officers released a report this week opposing the closure.

CPS says hearing officers exceeded their role in opposing closing of 14 schools

by Karee Magee
May 7, 2013

The recommendation by independent hearing officers that 14 imperiled schools not be closed cheered parents, but Chicago Public Schools officials forcefully disagreed with the report.

Chicago Public Schools officials have recommended that 54 schools be closed.

The hearing officers reports were posted to the CPS website Tuesday.

“It is my view that the Hearing Officer’s reported conclusion is incorrect,” said CPS general counsel James Bebley in written responses to 11 of the 14 decisions posted on the website. Three of the reports did not have written responses from CPS.

The proposed closures that the hearing officers have opposed include: Buckingham, Calhoun Mahalia Jackson, King, Manierre, Mayo, Morgan, Near North, Overton, Williams Elementary and Williams Middle School.

The hearing officers also suggested that the closing of Stockton and Stewart elementary schools be delayed until the 2014-2015 school year when a safety plan can be put into place.

“I think it’s great. The hearing examiners have looked at the facts and have come to the same conclusion that parents, teachers, and community members have that these schools should not be closed,” said Erica Clark, member of Parents4Teachers.

The public hearings were required for each school slated to be closed to determine whether CPS was complying with state statute.

The hearing officers provided a variety of reasons for keeping the individual schools open, ranging from test scores to community development. Some of the officers wrote that CPS did not take into account outside factors that are not connected to underutilization and test performance.

For example, in opposing the closure of King Elementary, independent hearing officer Bernetta Bush, said that the community’s safety concerns were a factor.

“The proposals by the CEO do not indicate that the CEO used any of the discretionary criteria afforded her by the guidelines in crafting the proposed plan. The plan’s failure to address these issues renders it inadequate and it thereby fails to satisfy the 2012-2013 guidelines,” said Bush in the hearing report for King.

Bebley responded in his written response, “Rather than evaluate whether the draft transition plan identifies the items required by the statute, the Report forms an opinion regarding the sufficiency of safety and security and academic supports, which is outside the scope of the Hearing Officer’s statutory role and expertise.”

The hearing officer reports and the CPS responses are available on the CPS website.

The board will make its final decision May 22, and according to Bebley’s written responses, the board will take the hearing officers reports into account.

“These schools should not be closed,” Clark said. “Every excuse they have used to close these schools has been refuted. There is no excuse.”