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Judge clears the way for Chicago to close 50 schools

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge cleared the way for Chicago to close 50 public schools by denying a request from some parents to stop the closings because they affected mainly African-American students.

Sean Morales-Doyle, an attorney for the parents who brought the complaint, said Friday that attorneys are reviewing the opinion, issued Thursday, and deciding what to do next.

U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee disagreed with the argument that children will suffer academic harm due to the closings, since the Chicago school district said they will be going to higher-performing schools when classes resume August 26. Lee ruled on two main civil lawsuits involving five schools.

"Evidence does not support their contentions of irreparable harm," Lee wrote.

Last month, an Illinois court judge denied a request from the teachers' union to keep 10 schools open.

The Chicago Board of Education voted last May to close 50 schools, including about 10 percent of all elementary schools, in the largest mass school closing in the nation.

The closings in mainly Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods have drawn protests by parents and union leaders, who say they will expose children to greater gang violence in a city that recorded 506 murders in 2012.

Officials at the nation's third-largest school district have defended the proposed closings, saying enrollment has slumped and the closings are necessary to help the district trim its budget deficit and better distribute resources.

Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Lee's ruling "supports our belief that every child in every neighborhood throughout the District deserves access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and life."

Urban school districts have been grappling with declining enrollment across the country, and 70 cities have closed schools over the past decade.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune and Bernadette)

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