WASHINGTON — A District of Columbia judge seemed skeptical about a lawsuit asking him to halt the planned closure of 15 public schools, noting during a hearing Friday that the students are being moved to better-performing schools.
The community group Empower D.C. is behind the lawsuit filed in March and says the planned closures violate the U.S. Constitution and city and federal laws. They say the closings will disproportionately affect minority, special education and low-income students, and they’re asking the judge for a preliminary injunction that would stop the schools from shutting.
Lawyers for the District say closing the schools will improve education for all students. They say they gave proper notice of the closings and responded to citizen concerns.
On Friday, federal court Judge James E. Boasberg cited publicly available data showing that the schools’ students are being moved to school that performed in some cases about two times better on standardized reading and math tests. He seemed incredulous that lawyers were asking him to keep open schools that have low enrollments and are more racially segregated and don’t perform as well as the schools students are being moved to under the closure plan.
Boasberg also appeared skeptical about whether some of the individuals, including two local officials, have the right to bring a lawsuit.
An attorney for the city, Douglas Rosenbloom, said the school closure plan was “about consolidating and best using resources” and said the process had been “transparent and open.” Officials said in announcing the closures in January that moving students to existing schools would save $19.5 million, $11 million of which would be reinvested in the school system.
In response to questions from the judge, Rosenbloom said he believes students moving to new schools would not have to travel more than an additional 1.5 miles.
Boasberg asked a lawyer for opponents of the closure whether he was suggesting that D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is intentionally discriminating against black and Hispanic students. The audience in the courtroom answered “yes,” a response that drew an admonishment from the judge, who asked the lawyer to answer.
The lawyer, American University professor Jamin Raskin, said the lawsuit wasn’t accusing Henderson, who is black and was in the courtroom, of racial hatred or animosity, but Raskin said “appearances do matter.”
Despite the judge’s questioning, Raskin said after the hearing that he was “very hopeful” the judge would stop the school closures.
Boasberg said he would rule on the issue next week.
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