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D.C. Officials And Community Group Go To Court Over D.C. School Closings

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District officials and members of the community group Empower D.C. are headed to federal court Friday to discuss the 15 schools scheduled to close at the end of this academic year.

When D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the closures earlier this year, she admitted school consolidations were "treacherous territory." But she said the challenge DCPS faced was simple: "We have too many schools for our student population."

Henderson says the number of D.C. public school buildings has not matched the decline in the population of school-age children or enrollment. Smaller schools spend disproportionately large amounts on non-teaching positions, such as office and cleaning staff. They're also heavily subsidized, and that's money, she says, that could be spent in the classroom.

"At almost half our schools, schools only have one teacher per grade level," she says. "So teachers don't have the opportunity to plan lessons or work collaboratively, which we know is one of the things that improves teacher performance."

Henderson says savings from the closures will go toward electives, art and music programs in the remaining schools.

But, Daniel del Pielago with the community group Empower DC, is trying to force the city to keep the schools open.

"We believe that these schools closures are discriminatory," he says.

Del Pielago says 99 percent of the children and families affected by the closures are African American or Hispanic, and only two students are white.

He says in 2008, during the last round of school closures, instead of seeing the promised savings, the District lost millions of dollars. And he says closing these schools will destabilize the surrounding communities.

What comes out of these closures have a lot deeper effect than the numbers the city puts out to justify their closures. It really does affect individuals and communities adversely.

A judge is expected to rule on the issue before the end of the month.

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