CHICAGO (CN) - The Chicago Board of Education targeted teachers in black neighborhoods for layoffs in 2011, firing African-American teachers at a higher rate than white co-workers, the teacher's union claims in a class action.
Chicago Teachers Union Local 1; the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, and three teachers sued the Board of Education of the City of Chicago in Federal Court.
The Board of Ed fired 480 tenured teachers in June 2011, 42 percent of whom were African-American, though fewer than 29 percent of Chicago's tenured teachers then were black, according to the complaint.
Chicago's 685 public schools serve more than 400,000 students, 42 percent of whom are African-American, according to the complaint.
"The African American teaching force in CPS [Chicago Public Schools] as a percentage of the overall teaching population has steadily declined, from 40.6 percent in 2000 to 29.6 percent in 2010. In 2011, African American teachers constituted approximately 28.7 percent of the tenured teaching population. Most of CPS's African-American teachers are employed in South and West Side schools," the complaint states.
The South Side and the Austin neighborhood in west Chicago are predominantly African-American.
"This above-noted decline in African-American teachers corresponds directly with a series of layoffs and school actions conducted by defendant BOE [Board of Education]. From 2010 through the present, defendants have laid off approximately 2,900 teachers and paraprofessionals," the complaint states.
"In defendant's layoffs process, the Chief Executive Officer ('CEO') of CPS approves the selection of schools from which layoffs will occur. Principals of the individual schools then select the teachers to be terminated. However, defendants target South and West Side schools where African-American teaching and staff populations are highest, at a higher rate. Thus, defendants' selection and layoff policies disproportionately affect African-American teachers and staff," the union says.
"In June, 2011, the Board terminated the employment of 931 classroom teachers through a round of layoffs. 480 of these teachers were tenured. African-Americans made up 42 terminated of the tenured teachers terminated, although constituting less than less than 29 percent of all CPS tenured teachers," the complaint states.
"Defendant's pattern and practice of targeting schools with high African-American teaching populations for layoff has a disparate impact on African-American tenured teachers and staff."
The complaint adds: "Budget shortfalls affect the Chicago Public School system in the aggregate and should not result in African-American tenured teachers being laid off at a disproportionate rate to their overall presence within CPS."
Of 346 schools affected by the layoffs, 19 fired five or more tenured teachers.
"78.9 percent of the schools that terminated five or more tenured teachers as result of the 2011 layoffs are located in the South and West Sides of the city," the complaint states. "Of the 480 tenured teachers terminated, 37.92 percent were Caucasian and 42.08 percent were African-American."
The union says this disparity cannot be explained by lower enrollment in South and West Side schools, because "at least seven schools on the North Side of the city experienced a larger drop in student enrollment than the most affected by the 2011 layoffs were not affected at all by the 2011 layoffs."
Chicago's North Side is wealthier, and whiter, than the South and West Sides.
The union seeks a declaration that the Board of Ed's layoffs disparately affected African-Americans and an order reinstating class members to their positions, or granting them front pay and benefits.
It is represented by Robin Potter.
Chicago public schools have long been plagued by racism. One white teacher, who taught on the Southwest Side, told Courthouse News that his principal reprimanded him for mingling with students on the "black" playground at lunch, and that he received obscene threats from white teachers in his school mailbox.