WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A District of Columbia community group sued the city Friday in an attempt to stop the planned closure of 15 public schools, which the lawsuit says will disproportionately affect minority, special education and low-income students.
Empower DC, the group behind the lawsuit, says closing the schools violates the U.S. Constitution and city and federal laws.
DC Public Schools are “vigorously” denying any allegations of discrimination.
School officials announced the closures in January. Officials said at the time that the schools have low enrollment and that moving students to existing schools would save $19.5 million, $11 million of which would be reinvested in the school system. The first 13 schools are set to close at the end of the current academic year. Two more schools will close at the end of 2014. The closures affect approximately 2,700 students according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says more than 90 percent of the students affected by the closures are black, a higher percentage than school system’s overall student population. According to the school system’s website, in the 2011 school year about 70 percent of the overall student population was black.
Special education students, meanwhile, make up 14 percent of students overall but more than 20 percent of the students affected by the closings, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says the closings also will require students to walk through unfamiliar and potentially dangerous neighborhoods to new schools and overwhelm existing schools with students.
An attorney for the group, Johnny Barnes, said Friday that the school closure plan treats students east of Rock Creek Park, who are mainly minorities, differently than students west of the park, who are predominantly white.
“You cannot treat one class of people differently than you treat another class of people,” Barnes said in talking to reporters outside Superior Court where the lawsuit was filed.
The school system said in a statement it had not yet been served with the lawsuit but that officials “vigorously deny any allegations of discrimination.” The closure plan was made with community and expert input, the statement said, and will “lead to greater equity across the city, including already an increase in the number of art, music and foreign language program offerings at our schools.”
Empower DC is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of several parents with students in the schools as well as local officials who represent areas where schools will be closed. A judge will hold an emergency hearing on the issue April 4.
The group noted in the lawsuit that school closures in 2008 also disproportionately affected minority, special education and low-income students. The lawsuit says that nothing “good or positive educationally has come from those 2008 closings and money has been lost rather than saved.”