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Corey H. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

July 17, 2008

COREY H. ET AL., ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 92 C 3409-Robert W. Gettleman, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 19, 2008

Before MANION, KANNE, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

In what is the latest chapter of the long-running Corey H. litigation, the Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("the Chicago Board") appeals an order that the district court entered in its role of overseeing the ten-year-old civil consent decree that lies at the heart of this case. The Board presents no justiciable argument, however, so we dismiss its appeal.

I. HISTORY

In recounting the factual and procedural history of this protracted matter, we will simplify greatly. Sixteen years ago, a group of disabled students who attended schools administered by Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and to whom we will simply refer as "the Plaintiffs," filed a putative class-action lawsuit against the Illinois State Board of Education ("the Illinois State Board"), as well as against other governmental entities and officials. Among the numerous claims that the Plaintiffs raised was the allegation that the Illinois State Board was responsible for CPS's district-wide practice of assigning disabled students to schools and classrooms solely according to their disability classifications. According to the Plaintiffs, such assignment practices violated the mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., that children should be educated in the least restrictive environment ("LRE") according to their individual needs. The Illinois State Board eschewed settlement with the Plaintiffs and proceeded to a bench trial, but lost; in granting judgment for the Plaintiffs, the district court determined that the Illinois State Board violated IDEA by, among other things, failing to ensure that CPS complied with IDEA's LRE mandate. The court thus ordered the Illinois State Board to submit a plan detailing how it would bring CPS into compliance with the law.

In response to the district court's judgment, in June 1999 the Illinois State Board entered into a consent decree with the Plaintiffs in which it outlined the steps that it would take to correct CPS's noncompliance with IDEA and to monitor CPS's future compliance. As relevant to the Chicago Board's appeal, the Plaintiffs and Illinois State Board agreed to the following:

(1) The district court would retain jurisdiction over the decree until January 16, 2006, though any party could petition the court for an extension of the court's jurisdiction in "extraordinary circumstances."

(2) The district court would appoint a Monitor who would oversee "all aspects of the implementation of [the decree]," and who would be charged with "tak[ing] any reasonable steps necessary to ensure compliance with [the decree]." And as part of the Monitor's broad powers to oversee the decree, the Monitor would have the authority "[to] collect any information relevant to carrying out [its] duties."

(3) The Plaintiffs, the Chicago Board, and the Illinois State Board would establish a number of "district-wide targets" that CPS would be required to meet to show that it was making progress in complying with IDEA. For instance, together the parties would formulate "[t]he minimum and maximum parameters of the percentages of students with disabilities who should be in attendance in any school." If the parties were unable to agree upon those targets by July 16, 1999, then the duty of establishing the targets would shift to the Monitor.

(4) If any CPS school was unable to meet an established target, then the Chicago Board could request an exemption-or what the parties have labeled a "waiver"-for the school. The "basis and process" for obtaining a waiver would be "established jointly" by the Plaintiffs, the Chicago Board, and the Illinois State Board, and implemented as part of the Illinois State Board's plan for overseeing CPS's compliance with IDEA.

Although the Illinois State Board and the Plaintiffs entered into the consent decree in good faith, negotiations apparently became complicated once the Chicago Board was brought into the fold. After the district court accepted the decree, the Plaintiffs, the Chicago Board, and the Illinois State Board were unable to agree upon a number of items related to the decree's implementation, such as the numerous targets for CPS's compliance, and the substantive and procedural criteria that would govern how the Chicago Board could request waivers from those targets. The Monitor therefore took it upon itself to formulate the targets, leading it to determine, among other things, that beginning on June 1, 2005, the maximum percentage of students with disabilities in any school in the CPS system could be no greater than 20% of the school's total student population. The Monitor also stated that the Illinois State Board could grant waivers to schools from the 20% cap, and that any rationale "for any waiver [would have to] be provided to the Monitor and the [P]laintiffs"; however, like the parties, the Monitor did not establish any criteria that would govern the Chicago Board's waiver requests.

The Chicago Board objected to the district court, arguing that the 20% enrollment cap was erroneously based on the Monitor's inconsistent use of nationwide statistics and definitions of terms used to determine IDEA compliance. But in an order issued on February 17, 2000, the district court rejected the Chicago Board's arguments and concluded that the Monitor did not abuse its discretion by formulating the 20% cap.

For five years, the Chicago Board sought no waivers from the Monitor's targets. Then, on June 1, 2005-the deadline by which all CPS schools were required to comply with the 20% enrollment cap-the Chicago Board sent a letter to the Monitor and the Illinois State Board, seeking waivers for 96 schools from the 20% cap. However, the Chicago Board provided no information supporting its waiver requests for about half of the schools listed, and for the other half listed, the Chicago Board provided only conclusory, one sentence "explanations." In response, the Monitor informed the Chicago Board that the scant information it provided would not allow the Illinois State Board "to make an informed decision" regarding the waiver requests, nor would it allow "the Monitor's Office or the Plaintiff's counsel to provide any significant input into the decision-making process." And citing its authority under the consent decree "[to] collect any information relevant to carrying out [its] duties," the Monitor asked the Chicago Board to "provide further support for its 'explanation[s]' " for its waiver requests, including: (1) a historical summary of the numbers and percentages of students with disabilities in the schools listed since the 1998-1999 ...


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