From Chicago Tribune by Bob Specter and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's push to shut 53 city elementary schools ran into an unexpected buzz saw of criticism Tuesday from hearing officers hired to vet the process, with several raising doubts about the wisdom of the proposals and recommending against 13 of the closures set for this year.

The hearing officers, retired state and federal judges, in many cases used sharp language to make it clear they felt many closures were insensitive to children, including special needs students, and even put them in harm's way.

Carl McCormick, a former Cook County circuit judge, complained in his evaluation of Overton Elementary in Bronzeville that officials promised to send all students at shuttered schools to better ones but in this case were shifting children from one poorly performing site to another.

"This is tantamount, using a food metaphor, to the promise of an omelet with a crisp waffle," he wrote. "Then what is delivered are broken eggs, whose contents are oozing out and a burnt pancake."

The recommendations, most posted around midnight Tuesday on the Chicago Public Schools website, are nonbinding but clearly stung the Emanuel administration. CPS issued a statement saying the former judges "acted outside their authority" in criticizing the closings.

CPS said the hearing officers were charged only with finding if the district complied with state law in deciding which schools to close. In nine cases, the officers found CPS was not in compliance. In four other cases, the officers wrote that they did not agree with the CPS proposal to close those schools.

One of the hearing officers, Charles Winkler, cited safety concerns in urging that the planned shutdown of Stockton and Stewart schools in the Uptown neighborhood be put off for at least a year. Winkler, retired from the Cook County bench, questioned whether an "understaffed Chicago Police Department" had the manpower to safeguard students traveling longer distances to school.

"Is there really enough time to get everyone up to speed so the 14,400 children from the closing schools are provided safe passage," Winkler wrote.

A plan to close Buckingham Special Education Center in the South Shore neighborhood also came in for sharp condemnation from former Cook County Judge Cheryl Starks, who was disturbed about youngsters being bused across town to a similar center on the West Side.

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