DCPS to propose school closures as resistance simmers

A long-anticipated round of proposed school closures will be announced in the next few weeks, Chancellor Kaya Henderson said Wednesday.


Protesters rally against the coming round of school closures at DCPS headquarters Thursday morning. (Emma Brown/The Washington Post)

“We want to build in the time to hear from you,” Henderson said, speaking Wednesday before residents of River Terrace, a community that’s still smarting from the closure of its elementary school last spring.

In 2008, then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee moved swiftly to close 23 schools, sparking angry protests, political backlash and long-lasting distrust.

Henderson is banking on the idea that communities will be more willing to accept closures if they’ve had the chance to hear and respond to her proposals and rationales.

But resistance is simmering. Dozens of protesters gathered at DCPS headquarters Thursday morning to rally against the coming closures, calling them a veiled attempt to destabilize communities and speed gentrification of poor neighborhoods.

Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower DC, which organized the rally, said she doubted that DCPS will really listen to residents. “We have no reason to trust the process that Kaya Henderson has laid out,” she said.

Parents — many pointing to a report issued this year that recommended closing many public schools and replacing them with public charters — described the closures as part of a larger attempt to destroy the city’s traditional public education system.

“The answer is not charter schools, the answer is fortifying traditional public schools,” said Schyla Pondexter-Moore, a Ward 8 parent of four. “I think children deserve a quality education at a school they can walk to.”

Henderson, meanwhile, has long argued that closures are a matter of fiscal reality. The city operates 225 public schools — including traditional and charter schools — for 76,000 kids. Meanwhile, Fairfax County has the same number of schools — and more than twice the kids.

The D.C. protesters were joined Thursday by activists from Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities where charter schools are thriving and public schools are closing.

This reporter left the rally just before noon, when perhaps a hundred activists were chanting and singing in front of DCPS headquarters. Organizers said their numbers later swelled into the hundreds as they marched to the U.S. Education Department to call for a five-year moratorium on school closures nationwide.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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