Mission & Staff
The Education Equity Project believes that access to free, quality education is a civil right. To ensure equity in education, there must be a concerted effort by lawyers, educators, policy-makers, community organizations and community members to shift the culture of punitive school discipline and secure access to education for all students.
The Education Equity Project protects and promotes access to education by addressing the individual and systemic barriers that disproportionately impact historically disadvantaged communities. We work to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and address educational disparities in three key areas:
Protecting Individual Students’ Rights: We provide direct legal services to youth at risk of losing access to education due to racial discrimination, harsh discipline, re-enrollment barriers or involvement in the criminal justice system. We train pro bono volunteer attorneys to represent students at expulsion hearings. In addition to providing direct legal services to students, we refer families to community-based resources and other support services for expelled youth.
Promoting Systemic Reform: We address systemic barriers by promoting school policy reform using an explicit racial justice lens. We advocate for better practices in school discipline policies, support the implementation of restorative justice programs, and provide trainings on school-to-prison pipeline issues. Recently, we helped a youth-led coalition pass SB100, a comprehensive state-wide law that significantly reformed school discipline policies and practices. We train administrators throughout Illinois to implement SB100, and on the role that implicit bias plays in school discipline and how to address it.
Empowering Communities and Building Partnerships: We employ a community lawyering model to advise community groups, advocate for partnerships and conduct outreach to parents and students who are affected by the school-to-prison pipeline. This work has led to partnerships such as the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative (TSDC). TSDC is an interdisciplinary group focused on supporting schools in their reform efforts. Efforts such as these have led to major policy victories at state and local levels.
Victory for National Teachers Academy (NTA)
In June, we filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging CPS' discriminatory proposal to close National Teachers Academy (NTA), a southside Level 1+ elementary school, and we asked for a preliminary injunction to pause the closure. On Monday, December 3, a judge ruled in our favor. CPS announced it was scrapping its plan by nightfall.
NTA parents and community members waged a two-year fight to keep their school open, speaking out at protests and public meetings with CPS officials. We hope the ruling marks the beginning of a process to reform school closures at CPS to ensure racial equity and fairness in its school actions process.
Chicago School Closures
The Education Equity Project has been using our community lawyering model in working with local leaders, students, and families impacted by the inequitable school closures plan pursued by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In December of 2017, CPS formally announced its intention to close National Teachers Academy (NTA), a top-rated elementary school which serves predominantly low-income African-American students, in addition to the closure of four existing Englewood schools – Hope, Harper, Robeson and TEAM Englewood. To challenge these inequitable school actions, our staff attorneys partnered with LAF and Chicago United for Equity (CUE) to support meaningful community engagement in the community meetings and public hearings and evaluate the racial equity impacts of the proposed actions.
Feb. 2018 Update: While CPS acquiesced to some community concerns and announced it will slowly phase out three of the Englewood high schools over three years instead of immediately closing all four high schools next school year, the work continues. Unfortunately, the hearing officer considering the NTA proposal submitted an opinion that allows for CPS to move forward with the closure of NTA unhampered. The next steps include the CEO submitting this proposal to the Chicago Board of Education and the Board taking a vote to approve the proposed actions – anticipated to take place at its upcoming Feb. 28th meeting. Even still, we continue to work with our partners and community members to challenge these closings and the ways they unduly burden our most vulnerable young people and further the inequity that plagues our school system.
Dec. 2018 Update: On December 3, 2018, a Cook County judge ruled in favor of parents and community activists who sought to freeze Chicago Public Schools’ plan to close their southside elementary school, National Teachers Academy (NTA), by granting their motion for a preliminary injunction this afternoon. The judge also threw out CPS’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges that CPS violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act and the Illinois School Code when it voted to close and convert NTA into a high school. With the injunction now granted, CPS is prohibited from moving forward with the closure while the lawsuit plays out in court.
Related Documents and Resources
Chicago Equity Forum: Implicit Bias in Schools
On Friday, December 14, 2018, we convened close to 100 teachers, administrators, lawyers, researchers, policymakers, parents, and funders for a forum to learn about implicit bias in schools and share local strategies that can advance educational equity. Click here to read our takeaways >>
With generous support from the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, as well as our hosts McDermott Will & Emery, the Forum featured a keynote from Dr. Gina Gullo, leading author of Implicit Bias in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide.
Three breakout sessions in the afternoon were led by Dr. Chala Holland, Principal at Lake Forest High School, Dr. Jackie Moore, President of the Oak Park and River Forest High School Board, and Dr. Pam Fenning and Miranda Johnson from Loyola University Chicago. Learn more and download speaker presentations here.
The Reid Technique of Interrogation
The Educational Equity Project has serious concerns about a professional development seminar offered to teachers and administrators in Illinois that is based on the Reid Technique of Interrogation, a discredited and unreliable law enforcement technique that’s been shown to elicit false confessions and is especially problematic for use on juveniles with mental health diagnoses. Teachers, school counselors, and other administrators are often encouraged to take this course, for which they receive professional credit. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, we learned in November of 2016 that more than 1,400 teachers and administrators from across Illinois, including the collar counties, have been trained in this technique over the last six years. Read the FOIA response here.
In December 2016, our staff sent an open letter signed by more than 50 organizations to the Illinois Principals Association (IPA) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) demanding that they revoke approval for this professional development course, which was still on offer for January through March of 2017. In response, we learned that the course has been suspended pending further review by ISBE and IPA.
Education Equity Project in the News
Chicago Sun-Times: National Teachers Academy parents sue CPS, saying closing violates civil rights | June 19, 2018
Chicago Tribune: Parents file lawsuit to halt closure of South Loop elementary school | June 19, 2018
The Chicago Reporter: Lawsuit seeks to stop school closing, alleging racial discrimination : June 19, 2018
WTTW Chicago Tonight: NTA Families Sue CPS, Claim School Transition Plan Violates Civil Rights | June 19, 2018
South Side Weekly: Communities Respond to School Closings | April 24, 2018
Windy City Times: Lawyers say school didn't stop racial harassment, retaliated against student | September 26, 2017
Black Youth Project: Liberation is a 3-step process: Broadening activism’s scope in the wake of the Movement for Black Lives By Alyxandra Goodwin | May 25, 2017
WTTW Chicago Tonight: New Bill Would Curb Pre-K Expulsions in Public Schools By Matt Masterson | May 11, 2017
The New Yorker: Why are Educators Learning How to Interrogate Their Students? By Douglas Starr | March 25, 2016