Months after a Cook County judge rejected Chicago Public Schools’ plan to take over a pair of South Side charter campuses, education officials are now set to vote to renew the schools’ charters despite ongoing litigation.
The Chicago Board of Education this month is expected to renew the campus agreement for Urban Prep charter schools located in Bronzeville and Englewood after a judge ruled that CPS violated its moratorium on school closures by attempting to take control of the schools.
“Because of the court order … we recommend that the board authorize a one-year renewal for Urban Prep from July 1, 2023 through June 30, 2024,” Zabrina Evans, executive director of the CPS Office of Innovation and Incubation, told board members Wednesday. “We also recommend conditioning the renewal on many requirements that we have already imposed on Urban Prep, around compliance with Title IX, financial responsibility and organizational structure that limits conflict of interest.”
Last October, the board voted unanimously against renewing the charters for the Urban Prep Academies campuses in Englewood and Bronzeville, with district officials citing “serious and unacceptable operational issues.”
That decision came amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct by UPA leadership.
Urban Prep’s founder, Tim King, resigned his position last year amid allegations he sexually touched and groomed a minor Urban Prep student. King — who has not been charged with any crimes related to this investigation — has denied those allegations, though CPS officials have said they were substantiated in a report from the district’s Office of Inspector General.
The Illinois State Board of Education upheld CPS’ vote, but Urban Prep leaders sued to keep control of the two campuses and earlier this year, an Illinois appellate court issued a temporary restraining order that prevented CPS from taking over.
Then in July, Cook County Judge Anna Loftus ruled in Urban Prep’s favor.
“Furthermore, the plain language of the statute itself, along with the definitions of ‘school closing’ found in (the school closing moratorium statute), inform this Court’s conclusion that CPS’ non-renewal decisions and subsequent actions constitute unauthorized school closures,” Loftus wrote in her ruling.
The judge ordered CPS to renew Urban Prep’s charter at least through the end of the 2023-24 school year.
CPS immediately appealed that decision, and that case remains ongoing.
“I just want to reinforce that we are here today putting this on the agenda because of that court order,” board vice president Elizabeth Todd-Breland said. “That is why we are here, to just be in compliance with the court order, even as it may be contrary to other actions by the board.”
As part of that charter, Urban Prep officials would be required to cooperate in all investigations by the district’s Inspector General and Office of Student Protections, implement any remedial actions that may come as a result of other investigations, and submit a viable financial plan for fiscal years 2024, 2025 and 2026.
In all, there are 15 requirements — which mirror requirements the district already placed on Urban Prep — included as part of this charter renewal. Of those, Evans said charter officials have attempted to comply with only one.
The board is expected to vote on the renewal during its meeting next Thursday.