Racism Decried in Sacramento School Closings

      SACRAMENTO (CN) – The Sacramento city school district ignored a report that recommended closing four schools in wealthy white neighborhoods and closed seven schools in poor minority neighborhoods instead, eight families and three PTA groups say in a constitutional complaint in Federal Court.
     The eight families, with 11 children in school, and PTAs from Joseph Bonnheim Elementary School, Clayton B. Wire Elementary School, and Maple Elementary School sued the Sacramento City Unified School District, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, and four members of the school board.
     The plaintiffs claim Sacramento U.S.D.’s decision to close seven elementary schools in minority neighborhoods “was motivated by racially discriminatory intent and purpose,” in violation of constitutional rights to equal protection.
     The school board formed a committee in November 2010 to determine which schools to consolidate and close. After studying the issue from April through August 2011, “and, applying the board’s detailed criteria and utilizing the Best Practices contained in the California Education Code, Sections 17387-17391, recommended the closure/consolidation of four elementary schools. The schools recommended for closure/consolidation were in older, affluent neighborhoods and the schools affected each had a ‘white’ student body in excess of 40 percent of the enrolled students,” according to the complaint.
     It continues: “The superintendent and the Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education rejected the recommendations of the committee because of the unacceptable impact on schools in influential, affluent, white neighborhoods and eschewed the criteria which led to the unacceptable resulting recommendations. Instead, the superintendant and the school board, without following any criteria and without complying with the best practices of the education code, selected for closure seven elementary schools having the lowest ‘white’ and the highest minority student population in the district. The selection of these seven schools for closure was motivated by an intent to discriminate against the minority populations which dominate in these schools and has and will have, unless enjoined, a disastrous discriminatory effect on the poor, disadvantaged population which is served by these neighborhood schools slated for closure.”
     Students who go to the schools to be closed will be transferred for the new school year. Many parents say car issues, work conflicts and physical disabilities prevent them from driving their kids to the new schools, so their children will have to wait at unsupervised bus stops or walk long distances in dangerous neighborhoods to get to school and come home.
     One mother says she does not speak English and learned about the school closures through a Hmong radio station. Several parents say they found out by reading newspapers or by word of mouth.
     The parents claim the short time span between the school board’s announcement that the seven schools were up for closure and the day of the vote did not give them or their communities enough time to organize and protest.
     Closing seven minority-dominated schools instead of four white schools reflects and perpetuates Sacramento’s long history of “intergenerational poverty and racial segregation, in which people of color have been segregated as a result of public and private policies over a period of decades,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs say the closures will, among other things, cause them to suffer financial hardship, emotional distress from racism, and loss of access to educational programs and school activities.
     They seek declaratory judgment, an injunction, and special and exemplary damages for violations of civil and constitutional rights.
     They are represented by Mark E. Marin.
     Defendants include Sacramento U.S.D. School Board President Jeff Cuneo, Vice President Patrick Kennedy, Second Vice President Darrel Woo, and board member Jay Hansen.

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