Judge to weigh testimony on CPS desegregation

  • By Jay Field
  • January 21, 2009 @ 2:34 PM

Members of the public will have their say tomorrow on how successful Chicago has been at integrating its schools.
U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras called for public hearings to help him decide whether the nation’s third largest school system can finally be released from years of federal monitoring.
The district has asked to be granted so called “unitary” status, which would free it from further court oversight.
CPS has long maintained that its student assignment policies have met the court’s demands and pushed for an end to the desegregation case.
When the district first entered into a desegregation consent decree back in 1980, whites made up seventeen percent of the student population.
Now, minorities comprise 92 percent of the CPS student body, making truly desegregated schools impossible.
Instead, the district has been working towards greater integration by giving as many kids as possible access to scores of magnet, selective and open enrollment schools that have opened under the government’s watchful eye.
Students who want to attend these schools submit a standard application. Most often, kids get assigned through a computerized lottery that takes racial composition into account.
Some interest groups expected to testify at tomorrow’s hearing acknowledge this system has led to progress. But they worry those gains will be lost and city schools will become resegregated without continued scrutiny by the court.
“We’re concerned that the district does not have a sufficiently detailed plan for addressing race issues in the future, in terms of school enrollment, says Anita Maddali, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Chicago.
Attorneys for CPS declined to comment ahead of tomorrow’s hearing.
What to do about integration -- if the district is released from oversight -- is a critical question, thanks to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2007.
The rulings invalidated student assignment plans in Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky that used race as a factor in school admissions.
If Judge Kocoras rules Chicago is now in compliance, these decisions by the high court will call into question the very strategies CPS has been using in recent years to integrate.
District lawyers have said they’re exploring the possibility of maintaining diversity by assigning kids to schools based on income instead.
But that doesn’t give MALDEF’s Anita Maddali much comfort.
“The fear,” Maddali says, “is that enrollment could drop for minorities at some of CPS’s best schools.”
Another hot-button issue at tomorrow’s hearing will be Chicago’s track record serving students who are learning English as a second language.
The agreement between the district and the government also calls on CPS to prove it’s delivering the services these kids need to succeed.
But MALDEF says that’s not happening with students designated as English Language Learners.
“There’s evidence that ELL students are being taught in the hallways and in janitor closets, says Maddali, “and a whole array of evidence that ELL students are not being provided the resources and services required under the law.”
Nearly fifteen percent of city students have limited English proficiency.