This afternoon, the Chicago Board of Education voted to approve a proposed settlement of $9.25 million to settle two race discrimination cases that are pending in federal court. These cases, which date back a decade, were our union’s response to the “turnaround” model of school management and the systemic assault on experienced Black educators, and were one of the first acts taken in my tenure in CTU leadership alongside my sister, President Emerita Karen GJ Lewis, NBCT.
As Karen said years ago, “It appears the only purpose that the firing and replacing of staff serves as part of a ‘turnaround’ is to discriminate against experienced, expensive educators, especially educators of color.”
Today is a step toward addressing that harm, and I am forever grateful for her visionary leadership in this case over the years.
We are legally constrained by what can be said publicly before the cases go back to the judge to enter a Preliminary Approval Order approving the settlement. We expect that date to be set for some time in January. This specific settlement will compensate 413 educators who were displaced by turnarounds in the years 2012, 2013 and 2014. Chicago Public Schools sought repeatedly to have these cases dismissed, a move that Judge Sara Ellis of the Northern District of Illinois ruled against in March, setting the stage for a trial and this CPS settlement offer.
The cases settled are Chicago Teachers Union et al. v. The Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Case Nos. 12-cv-10311 and 15-cv-8149), both pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Both were filed to stop the mayor and CPS leadership from deploying the school “turnaround” model that experts have called racially discriminatory.
That policy, beginning in the mid-2000s, fired all educators at dozens of targeted schools in Black neighborhoods and with high populations of Black students, based on the pretext of “performance” metrics that themselves have been found to have racially disparate impact. Hundreds of veteran Black teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff were dismissed from their jobs through turnarounds built on those metrics, helping drive down the number of Black educators in CPS from a high of about 40 percent to barely 20 percent today.
Black educators have shared heartbreaking stories of derailed careers, financial hardship and emotional trauma in the wake of these illegitimate layoffs. Those turnarounds were also devastating to students who lost access to trusted adults, school communities that were dismembered by these mass firings, and Black neighborhoods long starved of civic resources only to be robbed of the dedicated educators for generations of children.
Our union has vigorously fought the turnaround policy not just in the federal court, but in bargaining, in policy work with our allies, in the court of public opinion, and in the streets. We have effectively forced the district to back away in recent years from using turnarounds to dismantle Black and Brown school communities. We continue to battle CPS’ current school evaluation tool, SQRP, which is a direct policy descendant of the racially discriminatory metrics used to justify turnarounds between 2005 and 2014.
CPS has spent millions of dollars in public funds on legal fees to undermine our efforts to challenge these policies for purging Black educators from CPS. Our union has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses and costs to keep this court fight going, and the settlement will reimburse the Union for those costs.
The distribution of the settlement fund will be determined by a court-approved formula. Plaintiffs will receive payments that are based on the documented harm they experienced as a result of the turnaround layoffs and terminations. We expect that the named plaintiffs, who were effectively permanently displaced from CPS, will receive generous settlement payments. We also expect that no member among the 413 educators covered by this settlement, including those subsequently rehired in CPS, will get less than $5,000 if they submit a claim form.
The formula to calculate awards will be based on whether members retired because of the turnaround; found another job (and when); went into the reassigned teacher pool; were rehired; and other criteria to help determine settlements for each class member. Impacted members must file a claim form, which will also help determine each person’s specific award.
While this settlement does not erase the wrong done to these educators, it’s significant that CPS has chosen to settle rather than going to trial to defend the treatment that Black educators have faced at the hands of the mayors who run our school district. Even the mayor’s own handpicked Chicago Board of Education members have been pushed to publicly concede that SQRP, the heir to racially discriminatory turnaround metrics, has serious flaws. CPS’ move to settle these cases rather than go to trial, along with its abandonment of the turnaround model itself, is part of our long struggle to end years of these kinds of inequitable practices and policies.
The settlement is subject to final documentation and court approval, and the parties — CPS and our union — anticipate submitting the documented settlement to the court in early January 2022. We’ll email more details, including how members of the class can file a claim, as soon as that becomes available.
Our plaintiffs — Black displaced rank-and-file members — and our lawyers toiled through years of litigation that logged thousands of combined hours of attorneys’ time, with invaluable contributions from the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of the University of Chicago. Our three expert witnesses clearly documented that turnarounds had a statistically significant racial impact that was discriminatory and unnecessary, when better alternatives than turnarounds exist to improve educational outcomes.
We are grateful to the legal team, and most critically, indebted to the Black teachers and paraprofessionals who saw this case through. Their fortitude, commitment and solidarity is the heart of our strength as a union and a community.
Right now, school communities across the city with “low” SQRP ratings are working their hearts out every day to support our students in a school district that often struggles to step up and do what’s right. This settlement is vindication that those vibrant school communities are not the sum of successive mayors’ discriminatory “reform” metrics.
Our students and the educators who serve them deserve so much more than what CPS is willing to provide. Yet these kinds of struggles remind us that we can move mountains in our work for the schools our students deserve.
If you have any questions about the lawsuit, please call Attorney Patrick Cowlin at (312) 205-1702. To view documents from the lawsuit, go to Fish Potter Bolaños, P.C. | CTU (fishlawfirm.com)