Judge begins hearing evidence on Chicago school closings

CHICAGO – A federal judge began hearing testimony in Chicago on Tuesday to help him decide whether to order a preliminary injunction halting the closure of about 50 public schools in the city.

Witnesses testimony focused on the nation’s third largest school district and its decision this year to shutter the schools was expected to last up to four days, with the judge ruling within several weeks.

Attorneys for the Chicago Teachers Union and parents seeking the injunction before the new school year begins Aug. 26 were the first to call witnesses.

Pauline Lipman, an education-policy studies professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told U.S. Judge John Lee the closure of so many schools in a single year in one district is unprecedented nationally.

“This is a major escalation,” she said, adding the consequence for students wasn’t well understood.

Chicago Public Schools officials have said the buildings were underused and closing them will save the cash-strapped district millions of dollars. It said the district has 403,000 students in a system with seats for more than 500,000.

Lipman, though, said schools are often “anchors” of a neighborhood, especially in poorer or more crime-ridden area. She said shutting them could have a destabilizing affect.

Testimony was scheduled to resume today.