Press Release: Chicago School Closings Threaten Human Rights of Students

JULY 24, 2013 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CHICAGO SCHOOL CLOSINGS THREATEN HUMAN RIGHTS OF STUDENTS: Midwest Coalition for Human Rights Urges the United Nations to Investigate

Contact: Susan Gzesh, Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, 773-702-9455; Sital Kalantry, University of Chicago Law School, 917-673-3487

The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR), on behalf of students, parents, teachers, and concerned Chicago organizations, sent a letter of allegation to the United Nations today asking that the U.N. demand that the United States government investigate and take preventative measures to address the human rights impact of the closing of 49 Chicago elementary schools.  The International Human Rights Clinic of the University of Chicago Law School is legal counsel for the MCHR.

The school closings announced by the City of Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, in March 2013 are the largest round of school closures in American history.  The closures will displace nearly 30,000 students in 49 schools.  This massive wave of school closings contravenes United States domestic law, as well as international human rights treaties to which the United States is a party.  

In contravention to the right to equality and nondiscrimination, the school closings disproportionately and negatively impact African American and disabled children.  While African American children are about 40% of all students in the public schools, over 80% of impacted students are African American.  

In violation of the right of children to be free from violence and the right to life, the school closings put displaced children at grave risk of violence, since many will have to cross gang lines to get to their new schools.  

The right to education will be eroded as students will be placed in over-crowded classrooms without an increase in the number of teachers – and disabled children may be deprived of legally-mandated special services. Precisely those students who need the most resources devoted to their education will be deprived of them. 

Although hearings were held to allow community members to voice their concerns, they were effectively denied the right to participate in the school-closure decisions, because the authorities largely ignored their views. 

In 1948, the United States led the successful campaign for United Nations approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.S. has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The U.S. has signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The Chicago City Council passed a resolution in February 2009 endorsing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and ordering city agencies to advance policies that are consistent the treaty.  The closing of 49 public schools contravenes this promise by, among other things, placing children at increased risk of violence,” said Professor Sital Kalantry, counsel to the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago Law School.

 “In going to the UN, we stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Standish E. Willis of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. In 1947, Chicago lawyers Earl B. Dickerson and William Ming, Jr. co-authored with Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois An Appeal to the World, a petition by the NAACP to the United Nations protesting discrimination against African Americans across the U.S.

 The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) is a network of 56 organizations, service providers, and university Human Rights centers that work together to promote and protect human rights in the Midwest.  Coalition organizations research, advocate, educate, and take action as a strong regional voice on national and international human rights issues.  The MCHR has previously worked with Chicago organizations to request United Nations attention to local human rights issues involving the right to affordable housing, the prohibition against torture, and the right to be free from racial discrimination.   The full member list of the MCHR is available at http://www.midwesthumanrights.org/members

The Letter of Allegation is available at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/z6lql1l92m986s7/Letter%20of%20Allegation.docx