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updated: 11/11/2010 5:22 PM

U-46 racial bias suit set for February trial

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Families who claim Elgin schools discriminated against black and Latino students may finally get their day in court.

The long-running lawsuit over claims that Elgin Area School District U-46 placed minorities in inferior schools is set for a trial in late February and early March.

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The first phase of the trial, which will examine the issue of how U-46 assigned students to particular schools, is set to take place from Feb. 28 through March 3 in the Chicago courtroom of U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman.

"The pretrial efforts are focused on the parties getting their lists of exhibits and witnesses ... for that student assignment piece," said Patricia Whitten, an attorney for U-46.

The sides now have until Nov. 18 to prepare a joint order spelling out the exhibits, witnesses and issues that will be presented during the first phase of the trial.

"Plaintiffs are ready to start this trial," said Carol Ashley, an attorney for the families suing U-46. "We're going to cooperate with the court every step of the way. We are ready to go."

A closed-door conference with Gettleman set for Nov. 23 should help winnow down the evidence. A June 15 filing from the plaintiffs identified 1,662 exhibits, 163 witnesses and 67 issues many of which will be excluded by court order or agreement by both parties.

Later phases of the trial may cover claims surrounding U-46's "English language learner" and gifted programs although the question of whether the gifted program is within the scope of the lawsuit may be a continuing point of contention.

While an October order from Gettleman decreed that the lawsuit already includes allegations about the gifted program, lawyers for U-46 do not believe the program is within the scope of the case.

"It's still an open question," Whitten said.

But the plaintiffs argue that as far as they are concerned, Gettleman's order gave them the go-ahead to proceed with the gifted program claims.

"We were pleased with the court's order ... because we always thought the gifted issues were clearly part of the case," Ashley said.

Other evidentiary issues, such as which years the case should cover, will be resolved before or during the trial, attorneys said.

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