A District of Columbia judge ruled against halting the closings of 15 D.C. public schools after hearing the case in the U.S. District Court on May 10. While opponents argued that the closings will disproportionately affect low-income and minority students, the judge ruled that there was no evidence of intentional discrimination.
“The public-education landscape in the District of Columbia has changed,” said Judge James E. Boasberg. “The advent of public charter schools, coupled with demographic shifts, has resulted in substantially decreased enrollment in certain neighborhoods over the last fifteen years.”
Opponents of the closings packed the courtroom as a legal team of 12 argued that if the city goes forth with its plan, it will cause “irreparable harm” to the children affected, most of which live in minority and low-income communities.
Community organizing group, Empower DC, filed the lawsuit in March against the city after Chancellor of Education Kaya Henderson proposed closing 15 public schools, most of which were located in the district’s lower income wards. The group pleaded for a preliminary injunction, claiming that closures violated the US Constitution and city and Federal laws.
Attorney and Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin argued the importance of children having equal access to a neighborhood school.
“The point is that having a neighborhood school is a precious public resource and a precious public benefit that we think should not be distributed along the lines of race and class,” he said.
District attorneys argued against these claims, stating that there is no constitutional right to having a neighborhood school. City Attorney Douglas Rosenbloom stated the process has been “transparent and open” and that the closures are due to under enrollment, and will help consolidate resources.
Judge Boasburg seemed skeptical of the opponents’ claims, citing data indicating that the schools that the children will be moved to have test scores that were in some cases two times higher than those of the schools slated to close.
“The whole purpose of going to school, for these kids, is to receive a good education, correct?” Boasberg said. “It seems to me that the schools they’re transferring into are a whole lot better.”
Director of Empower DC Parisa Norouzi stated in a press conference held before the hearing that the school closures contribute to the process of “destabilizing and displacing African-American communities.”
“This is part of gentrification,” she said. “This is part of the decades-long process that begins with divesting from our neighborhoods.”
Empower DC will continue its legal fight in hopes of keeping schools open, according to a press release issued on May 15.
“This fight is not just about schools, but about who benefits from development and who will live in this city ten years from now,” said Norouzi. “School closures are being used by the city to promote gentrification and displacement.”
The case will still be live in Federal Court, and Empower DC will decide its next steps in the case within the next few days.
“The lawsuit is not over,” said Lead Attorney Johnny Barnes. “Our fight has just begun.”