Barnes Joins with Empower DC – Files Lawsuit to Stop School Closures
On Friday, March 29th Lead Attorney Johnny Barnes was joined by members of an eight-person Legal Team to file a lawsuit to block the proposed Plan by Chancellor Kaya Henderson to close 15 D.C. Public Schools.
“We are making history,” said Attorney Barnes. “Communities throughout the country are fighting the closure of public schools, but D.C. is leading the legal challenge against closures that represent a significant civil rights violation.”
Mayor Vincent Gray and Chancellor Henderson announced their plans to close schools in November of last year, and narrowed the list to 15 schools --- ten percent of all public schools --- only in Wards 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8 earlier this year. No schools in Ward 3 are up for closure. The District has already closed 29 DC Public Schools since 2008, citing under enrollment and budget concerns. Those closures were opposed by many but contested by none.
Yet a study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute shows that earlier closures cost the city $40 million, rather than saving $23 million as promised. Further analysis shows that the additional cost of operating a so-called “under enrolled” school is negligible in comparison to a larger school. Residents debate the “under enrollment” standard as well, since small class sizes are generally regarded as good for students and the city’s charter schools would almost exclusively be considered under enrolled if judged by the same standard. Additionally, DCPS has yet to initiate a program to boost enrollment even in the face of communities requesting that type of support. “The Mayor and Chancellor are saying that economic necessity is causing them to close these schools, but the law does not permit that,” said Attorney Barnes. “The proposed closures reflect a duel standard because they disproportionately impact black and brown students, low income and disabled students. If the closures move forward they will be in violation of local and federal law.”
The proposed closures would impact over 2,700 students, 99.9% of whom are students of color and 82% low income. Only two white students will be displaced.
“Schools are the heart of our communities,” said Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director of Empower DC. “Empower DC’s members have been harmed by previous closures. From Ivy City’s continued fight for the Crummell School, to the city’s outright lies to the Bruce-Monroe community, to the recent heartbreak in the River Terrace community when their only public building was shuttered, we know firsthand that the city cannot be trusted to continue closing schools like they have done in the past. This time we are taking legal action.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the closures, 13 of which are scheduled for the end of the 2013 school year, and the remaining two for the end of the 2014 school year. Those scheduled for 2014 include Sharpe Health School and Mamie D. Lee School, both of the city’s schools dedicated exclusively to serving children with disabilities. A copy of the complaint is available on this Web Site.