Judge Won’t Stop Public Schools Shuttering in DC

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Parents and D.C. neighborhood groups have no hope of keeping open 15 schools suffering from increasingly anemic enrollment, a federal judge ruled.
     The Advisory Neighborhood Commission and several parents of kids who go to those schools sued the district earlier this year over the Consolidation and Reorganization Plan put forth by D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
     U.S. District Judge James Boasberg didn’t buy it, stating Wednesday that shutting down the schools and reassigning their students could be the best thing for the kids.
     “Few topics, understandably, incite our passions more than the education of our children,” Boasberg wrote. “Toss into the mix the future of neighborhood institutions, whose familiarity and history may resonate deeply, and quite a volatile brew emerges. It is thus hardly surprising that assorted constituencies may possess varied opinions on the wisdom and necessity of the Plan and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s strategy.”
     The advent of charter schools and the dropping population of school-age children in certain areas of the city have created a situation where many city schools are only partially full. Boasberg noted that some of the schools proposed to be shut down use as little as 25 percent of its building space.
     Henderson and the city’s public school system furthermore paraded their plan before the city for input, an olive branch that resulted in five of the original 20 schools proposed to be shut down, according to the ruling
     “All fifteen schools on the final closure list lie east of Rock Creek Park, a historical dividing line within the city,” Boasberg wrote. “East of the Park, residents are generally poorer and overwhelmingly black and Hispanic; west of the Park, residents are wealthier and mostly white. The halls of the closing schools reflect those demographics.”
     The schools failed to support their constitutional claims, according to the ruling, which notes that taking kids out of weaker schools could be the best thing for them.
     “Yet every adverse policy decision does not yield a constitutional claim,” Boasberg wrote. “In this case, there is no evidence whatsoever of any intent to discriminate on the part of the defendants, who are actually transferring children out of weaker, more segregated, and under-enrolled school. The remedy plaintiffs seek – i.e., to remain in such schools – seems curious, given that these are the conditions most people typically endeavor to escape.”
     The plaintiffs alleged that the plan violates D.C. statutes and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – two of the plaintiff parents have children with serious disabilities making a further trek all the more challenging.
     But their inability to demonstrate that they can win on their merits was enough for the judge to deny their motion for an injunction.
     “DCPS estimates that the school closings will save $8.5 million, which works out to a reallocation of almost $200 for every student in the system,” Boasberg wrote.
     “On plaintiffs’ side of the scale, by contract, the harms are hard to spot.”

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