U-46 trial to go on as scheduled

A federal judge has denied a motion filed by attorneys for Elgin Area School District U-46 to dismiss the racial bias suit the district is facing.

That means the first phase of the trial, addressing claims that minority students were assigned to inferior schools, will proceed as planned, with a Feb. 28 start date.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2004, claims U-46 discriminated against black and Hispanic students by sending them to older, more-crowded schools, denying them equal access to gifted programs and providing inadequate bilingual programs.

Since 2008, the case has been a class-action lawsuit, which means a ruling in the case would affect the entire district, not just the 11 plaintiffs named in the complaint.

Attorneys for the state’s second-largest school district argued the case should be dismissed because the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit lacked legal standing to bring the case.

District Court Judge Robert Gettleman was not convinced.

“Plaintiffs have established that they had standing when the suit commenced and that they continue to have a personal stake in the outcome,” Gettleman wrote in a court order dated Jan. 20. “Accordingly, defendant’s motion for summary judgment for lack of standing is denied.”

Michael Hernandez, an attorney for the school district, said he had hoped for a more favorable ruling but that his firm will continue to prepare for the trial as before.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed with Judge Gettleman’s ruling,” Hernandez said. “However, we respect the court’s ruling and look forward to getting our day in court.”

He added, “There was no narrowing of the issues. We were disappointed about that. We will try all the issues as the judge deems appropriate.”

Stewart Weltman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was not surprised by the court’s ruling. Plaintiffs’ attorneys had suggested earlier that the U-46 motion was a bid to get the case thrown out on technicalities without addressing the substance of the case.

“We’re pleased the judge ruled like he did and we’re looking forward to proceeding to trial,” Weltman said.

The case is set for a status hearing on Jan. 28.