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DC Officials Respond to School Closing Lawsuit

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File photo of an empty classroom. (credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of an empty classroom. (credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — A District of Columbia plan to close 15 schools was the result of extensive study and will improve education for all students, officials said in responding to a lawsuit over the closures.

Lawyers for the city filed court documents Wednesday in response to a lawsuit by a community group seeking to stop the closures. The lawsuit, which was filed in March, said the closings will disproportionately affect minority, special education and low-income students.

Empower DC, the group behind the lawsuit, said the plan violates the U.S. Constitution and city and federal laws. They’re asking a judge to halt the closures, which were announced in January.

Officials said at the time that the schools have low enrollment and 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, over 90 percent of them black, according to the lawsuit. In the 2011 school year, about 70 percent of the overall student population was black, according to the school system’s website.

Lawyers for the District of Columbia made several arguments in opposing Empower DC’s request for a preliminary injunction, which would halt the school closures. Lawyers wrote that the five people bringing the lawsuit with the support of Empower DC — three are guardians of children in schools that will be closed and two are local officials — have no standing to bring the suit. They said the group was connected to less than half of the schools scheduled for closure.

In addition, lawyers said school officials gave proper notice of the closings and responded to citizen concerns. The school system held six public hearings and changed its original plan to close 20 schools based on public feedback. Finally, lawyers said school officials did not intended to discriminate against any group.

Lawyers said halting the closure plan would set a bad precedent that “a parent who is disappointed that his or her child’s school is closing can file a lawsuit” and stop the closing if the school “happens to have a higher proportion of African-American students than the District-wide average.”

Lawyers for the District wrote that the disagreement over school closures “belongs in the realm of public discourse and local politics, not in federal court under vacuous and ‘kitchen-sink’ civil rights allegations.”

A judge has scheduled a hearing for May 10.

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(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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