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Friends of Trumbull v. Chicago Board of Education

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 3, 2015

CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION and BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Board of Education, Defendants

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          For Friends of Trumbull, a voluntary unincorporated organization, Plaintiff: Miriam V. Hallbauer, LEAD ATTORNEY, Alice Beatriz Setrini, Legal Assistance Foundation, Chicago, IL; Ashley B. Fretthold, Jennifer Joyce Payne, LAF, Chicago, IL; Charles Robert Petrof, Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Chicago, IL.

         For Chicago Board of Education, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, in her official capacity as Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Board of Education, Defendants: Lisa Anne McGarrity, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jennifer Ann Smith, Michael A. Warner, Jr., Franczek Radelet P.C., Chicago, IL; Cheryl J. Colston, Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Department of Law, Chicago, IL; James C. Franczek, Franczek Sullivan P.C., Chicago, IL; Kendra Berner Yoch, Sally J. Scott, Franczek Radelet, Chicago, IL; Susan Margaret O'Keefe, Chicago Board of Education, Chicago, IL.

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         Memorandum Opinion and Order

         Gary Feinerman, United States District Judge.

         Facing massive budget shortfalls, the Chicago Board of Education decided in 2013 to close dozens of public schools. Citywide protests followed. So did the lawsuits, including this one brought against the Board of Education and its Chief Executive Officer (together, " Board" ) by, among others, Friends of Trumbull, an unincorporated association whose purpose was to advocate for resources to meet the educational needs of Lyman Trumbull Elementary School in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, one of the schools slated for closure. Friends alleges that the utilization formula used by the Board to determine which schools were eligible for closure unfairly penalized Trumbull--which had a relatively high proportion of students with disabilities--in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Doc. 21. The Board has moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings. Doc. 132. The motion is granted.


         As on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court on a Rule 12(c) motion assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2014) (" A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." ); Reger Development, LLC v. National City Bank, 592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010). The court must also consider " documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice," along with additional facts set forth in the non-movant's brief opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts " are consistent with the pleadings." Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2012). To the extent that an exhibit contradicts the complaint's allegations,

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the exhibit takes precedence. See Forrest v. Universal Savings Bank, F.A., 507 F.3d 540, 542 (7th Cir. 2007). The following facts are set forth as favorably to Friends as permitted by those materials.

         In 2013, the Chicago Public School District " ha[d] space for over 511,000 students, but only 403,000 [we]re enrolled. Nearly 140 schools [we]re more than half empty." Doc. 21-1 at 8. Believing this underutilization to be partly responsible for the District's $1 billion fiscal deficit, id. at 7, the Board announced the possible closing of more than 50 public schools, including Trumbull. Doc. 21 at ¶ 35. Following public hearings in April 2013, the Board voted in May to close Trumbull and 49 other schools. Id. at ¶ ¶ 36, 42.

         The Board determined that Trumbull was eligible for closure because although the school could accommodate between 576 and 864 students, it had only 389. Id. at ¶ 37. According to the Board's " Utilization Standard," a school's " ideal" enrollment was calculated by (1) multiplying the school's total number of classrooms by 0.76 (the assumed fraction of general purpose classrooms, as opposed to ancillary or special purpose rooms, in a typical school); and then (2) multiplying that result by 30 students (the assumed ideal number of students per classroom). Id. at ¶ ¶ 26-29. The Board considered a school to have acceptable " enrollment efficiency" if its enrollment was within 20 percent of the ideal. Id. at ¶ 27. Accordingly, a school with an enrollment below 80% of its ideal was considered underutilized. Id. at ¶ 29. Trumbull's 389 students amounted to just 54% of its ideal enrollment of 720; to reach acceptable enrollment efficiency, Trumbull would have needed at least 576 students. Id. at ¶ 43.

         The Utilization Standard took into account neither a school's actual number of general purpose classrooms nor its population of special needs students, who require class sizes of far fewer than 30 students. Of Trumbull's 31 classrooms, only 21 were general purpose classrooms--and 6 of the 21 were reserved for special education classes. Id. at ¶ 20. Each special education class had roughly 8 to 12 students, id. at ¶ 22, and Friends alleges that " [t]he lower student-to-teacher ratio in the special education classrooms constitute[d] a crucial feature of Trumbull's education program," id. at ¶ 23. Of Trumbull's 389 students in the 2012-13 school year, 135 required special education services, 70 of them full time. Id. at ¶ 21. Had the Board taken into account Trumbull's actual population and classroom allocation, it would have concluded that " Trumbull's utilization [wa]s about 70%" instead of 54%. Id. at ¶ 44. The Board announced at one point during the closure process that only schools with utilization rates lower than 70% would be vulnerable to being closed. Id. at ¶ 34.

         Joined by three Trumbull students and their mothers, Friends filed this suit in June 2013. Doc. 1. The operative complaint alleges that the Board's decision to close Trumbull on the basis of the Utilization Standard violated the Rehabilitation Act, Doc. 21 at ¶ ¶ 55-73; the ADA, id. at ¶ ¶ 74-90; and the Illinois School Code, id. at ¶ ¶ 91-109. Friends alleges that the Board's decision forced it to " divert efforts and resources from its mission of raising funds to further Trumbull's educational programs" to " opposing Defendants' discriminatory actions, and advocat[ing] against Trumbull's closure." Id. at ¶ ¶ 73, 90. Shortly after the suit was filed, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the school's closing. Doc. 22. On August 13, 2013, after an expedited evidentiary ...

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