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Principals' Challenge to Chicago Law Rejected

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A federal judge has upheld the Chicago school-reform law against a challenge by principals who claimed it unconstitutionally gave parents too much power.

U.S. District Judge Marvin E. Aspen held late last month that provisions in the Illinois law giving parents six of 11 voting seats on the local councils that run individual schools pass constitutional muster.

In rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that by setting aside so many seats for parents the law violated the constitutional principle of "one person, one vote,'' Judge Aspen said the principle insures fair representation only among voters, not among the members of an elected panel.

Each member of a local council is chosen by the whole electorate for that school, so the parent members are not answerable only to parent voters and cannot be presumed to act as a homogeneous voting bloc, Judge Aspen concluded.

Moreover, the judge wrote, "It is entirely appropriate to give the persons most directly interested in the education of children, i.e. parents, a greater role than others in facilitating the running and improvement of the schools.''

The decision lets stand the law, which empowers the local school councils to make major decisions, including the hiring and firing of principals. Each council comprises six parents, two community residents, two teachers, the principal, and, at high schools, one student.

The court also rejected a claim by the plaintiffs, the Chicago Principals' Association, that the legislature exceeded its powers in using the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act to rescind the lifetime tenure it had granted the city's principals in 1917.

In an earlier suit, principals had succeeded in getting the Illinois Supreme Court to strike down the initial version of the law, which stipulated that only parents could vote for the parent members of local councils. The law was subsequently amended to give parents and community members the same voting rights. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

"This should be the last of the major court challenges to Chicago school reform,'' said Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a local school-reform-advocacy group that intervened in the most recent suit to defend the reform law.--PETER SCHMIDT

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