Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 08 CH 04912 Honorable Stuart Palmer, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Connors
(Mose Vines Academy Local School Council, ) School of Technology Local School Council, ) School of Entrepreneurship Local School ) Council, Chicago Westside Branch of the ) National Association for the Advancement of ) Colored People, Reverend Charles Walker, ) LaJoyce Hall, Larissa Bilous, and Darryl ) Gibson, Plaintiffs.)
JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Karnezis and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 In this case of first impression, the issue is whether defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago may designate a school in the city of Chicago a "small school," or close the school and open an alternative school in its place, without holding Local School Council (LSC) elections and ceding governing authority over the school to that LSC. The circuit court entered summary judgment on this question in favor of defendant, finding that section 34-2.4b of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-2.4b (West 2008) exempts small schools and alternative schools in this particular situation from LSC control. We affirm.
¶ 3 For context, we will begin with only a general legal and factual overview of this case. We will refer to specific factual details from the record as necessary in our analysis.
¶ 4 LSCs are local governmental bodies that consist of up to 13 members who are elected from a school's local community. LSCs have broad authority over an individual school's spending priorities and the selection and retention of its principal, as well as some other school policies such as the dress code. See generally 105 ILCS 5/34-2.3 (West 2008) (enumerating the powers of LSCs). LSCs are designed to operate largely independently, and the overarching goal of the legislature in creating LSCs is to "make the individual local school the essential unit of educational governance and improvement and to establish a process for placing the primary furtherance of [priority] goals in the hands of parents, community residents, teachers, and the school principal at the school level." 105 ILCS 5/34-1.01 (West 2008).
¶ 5 Although LSCs are designed to be the basic unit of school governance, defendant still has control over certain school district-level decisions, such as opening and closing schools or establishing the educational curriculum. See generally 105 ILCS 5/34-18 (enumerating powers of defendant). Since the laws governing LSCs were first established by the Chicago School Reform Act in 1989 (see Pub. Act 85-1418 (eff. May 1, 1989) (amending 105 ILCS 5 art. 34)), the legislature has amended the School Code several times in order to exempt some schools from LSC control in certain circumstances. As relevant to this appeal, this category of exemptions includes those schools that have been designated by defendant as "small" or "alternative" schools. See 105 ILCS 5/34-2.4b (West 2008).
¶ 6 This case arises out of defendant's closure of several schools that were governed by LSCs and opening small and alternative schools in their place under control of defendant. In 2002, defendant closed and converted Orr Community Academy High School into several small schools, which included Mose Vines Preparatory Academy. Defendant also closed and converted South Shore High School into several specialized small schools, which included the School of Technology and the School of Entrepreneurship. In 2003, defendant converted Jean Baptiste Point DuSable High School into small schools, which included the Daniel Hale Williams Preparatory School of Medicine. In 2004, defendant opened the small school Pershing West Magnet School on the grounds of the former Douglas Elementary School. In 2005, defendant opened the small school Suder Montessori School in the former Suder Elementary School building. Finally, in 2006, defendant closed George Washington High School and opened Carver Military Academy in its place as an alternative school.
¶ 7 Following conversion of the schools, defendant took direct control of local school functions that had previously been exercised by LSCs. Pursuant to defendant's policy regarding small schools, defendant formed "advisory" LSCs at the small schools. Although the structure of these advisory LSCs is substantially the same as the elected LSCs, the advisory LSCs have no governance authority over the small schools. In the case of Carver Military Academy, it is governed by a board of governors that is appointed by defendant.
¶ 8 The plaintiffs in this case are LSCs of several of the above schools, interested community organizations, and interested community members who are eligible to serve on the LSCs. In February 2008, plaintiffs filed a three-count verified complaint in the circuit court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Count I sought a declaration that plaintiffs had a statutory right to elect LSCs with authority over Mose Vines and the Schools of Technology and Entrepreneurship. The complaint did not specifically refer to any other schools by name. Count II sought a writ of mandamus that would require defendant to hold LSC elections and recognize the governance authority of the LSCs over the schools. Count III sought in the alternative a common-law writ of certiorari in order to obtain judicial review of defendant's actions. In essence, the complaint alleged that defendant had unlawfully taken direct control of the schools and refused to recognize the authority of the elected LSCs.
¶ 9 Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint under section 2-619.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2008)), arguing among other things that section 34-2.4b of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/34-2.4b (West 2008)) exempts small schools such as Mose Vines and the Schools of Technology and Entrepreneurship from LSC control. The circuit court agreed with defendant and dismissed the complaint without prejudice on April 11, 2008.
¶ 10 Plaintiffs then filed an unverified amended complaint, which alleged the same three counts but included additional plaintiffs. The amended complaint now included plaintiffs who were interested in the LSCs of the small schools Mose Vines, the Schools of Technology and Entrepreneurship, Williams Prep, Suder Montessori, and Pershing West, as well as the alternative school Carver Military Academy. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the amended complaint on July 17, 2008, raising substantially the same arguments as the earlier section 2-619.1 motion. The circuit court denied defendant's motion for summary judgment, finding that an issue of material fact existed regarding the conversion process into small schools.
¶ 11 Defendant moved for summary judgment a second time in April 2008. Defendant supported its motion with the affidavits of Joshua Edelman, the Executive Officer of the Office of New Schools; Rick Mills, the Military Area Officer for Military Academies and JROTC; and Estela Beltran, the Secretary of defendant, who attested to the foundation of certified copies of documents that were attached to ...