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Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Closure Of 15 D.C. Schools

A federal judge has backed the closure of 15 D.C. public schools.
Karen Apricot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenapricot/292761884/
A federal judge has backed the closure of 15 D.C. public schools.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to stop and reverse the closure of 15 D.C. public schools over the last year.

In a 26-page ruling, Judge James E. Boasberg of the U.S. District Court dismissed arguments by five parents that D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson had discriminated on the basis of race in closing the 15 schools, all of which were located east of Rock Creek Park.

Boasberg said that the five had not proven that the school closures, which Henderson said targeted under-enrolled schools and would produce annual savings of $8.5 million, were purposely aimed at minority students.

"No one is denying that the racial disparities in the recent closings are striking. In the closed schools, after all, a startling 93% of students were black and fewer than 0.2% (six students) were white. But here, the disparity appears to be caused by the location of the under-enrolled schools, not by intentional discrimination," he wrote.

He also dismissed arguments that the schools were closed to fund raises for white teachers and allow charter schools to take over the empty buildings, saying that those were political matters beyond his jurisdiction.

"Although Plaintiffs dislike charter schools, performance pay, and the increasing number of D.C. school closures, there is simply no real evidence that these policies are discriminatory," he wrote. "As a result, federal courts have no authority to intervene in these sensitive policy choices, and judges should not be the ones to render the final verdict on charter schools, school turnarounds, and teacher evaluations."

In May 2013, Boasberg rejected an initial attempt to stop the closures, which took place over two school years. An estimated 3,000 students were affected. It was the second round of closures since the D.C. Council granted mayoral control over the city's public schools; 23 schools were closed in 2008.

In a statement, Henderson applauded the decision.

"We sincerely appreciate Judge Boasberg's thoughtful decision to reject the claims in this lawsuit. Our decision to consolidate schools was made after careful consideration and conversations with the community, recognizing the best way to use the limited resources we have to support all of our students in all wards across D.C.," she said.

The group behind the lawsuit, Empower D.C., said it plans to appeal, arguing that regardless of intent, the school closures improperly and disproportionately affected minority students. It also says that the process did not take public input as required by law.

School officials say they may reopen some of the closed schools as part of a proposal to redraw the city's school boundaries and feeder patterns.

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