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Judicial Rulings

Chicago school reform law unconstitutional

"A school is not an island within the community; the school system is an integral part of the whole city." On this principle the Illinois Supreme Court based its November 30 decision that the entire Chicago School Reform Act (see Illinois Revised Statutes 1989, ch. 122, sec.34-1.01 et seq.) is unconstitutional.

The act aims at desperately needed improvement in Chicago's 539 schools by allocating governance of individual schools to local school councils. Two council members-at-large are elected by residents of the district, two teacher members by teachers in the school and six parent members by parents of currently enrolled students.

Because of that last provision the court found the reform act wanting because "it is clear that the local school councils are elected by citizens who have different voting powers . . . ." Under the one-person, one-vote rule of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Reynolds v Sims (1964), 377 U.S. 533, 12 L. Ed. 2d 506, 84 S. Ct. 1362) all votes must have equal weight in elections for bodies having general governmental powers.

The court identified seven powers of local school councils that are broad enough to give the councils general governmental powers. It citied the broad importance of schools to the community at large and said, "Control and supervision over the operation of the local schools as vested in the local school councils. " Because of the central position of the councils in the entire act the whole statute had declared unconstitutional.

The court cited a number of U.S. Supreme court decisions as precedents but noted that the present case differs from them because "there ..does not appear to be a comparable statute in 'the United States or a comparable education structure." The court noted that operation of its mandate could be postponed by requests for rehearing and for time to allow the city to seek corrective action in the legislature. According to news reports, supporters of school reform feel that simple legislative action could produce an acceptable statute.

Justice Daniel P. Ward wrote for the majority in Fumarolo v Chicago Board of Education (Docket No. 69558). Justice William G. Clark dissented, interpreting the precedents as indictee that control of Chicago's schools remains with the Board of Education while the local councils have functions of special purpose bodies. Elections for these could give differential weight to votes of different groups. Justice Howard C. Ryan wrote a special concurrence with the majority.

F. Mark Siebert

January 1991/Illinois Issues/27

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