Judge dismisses much of lawsuit over D.C. school closures, but allows civil-rights claims to move forward

A federal judge has dismissed most of a lawsuit that sought to stop the closure of 15 D.C public schools but is allowing several of the plaintiffs’ civil rights claims to move forward.

“In the end, Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts that would sustain the majority of their counts,” Judge James E. Boasberg wrote in an opinion Thursday. “Some issues at the heart of this case, however, remain open.”

Activists with the community group Empower D.C. filed the lawsuit in March in an effort to stop 13 of the schools from being closed in June. They argued that the school closures violated a number of local and federal laws, including civil rights provisions. The closures disproportionately affected black, Hispanic and disabled children, they argued.

Boasberg declined that initial request to block the closures, ruling in a strongly worded opinion that the activists had “no likelihood of ultimate success on the merits” of their complaint. They had showed no evidence, he said, that Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) had intended to discriminate.

In Thursday’s opinion, Boasberg appeared no less skeptical of the activists’ position, saying that their civil-rights arguments “may ultimately be too slender a reed” on which to hang their case. But under the law, he said, they deserve time to gather and present information before he issues a final ruling.

“That said, however, the Court is not in the business of sanctioning a fishing expedition into decades of [school system] files,” Boasberg wrote. “Only targeted discovery will garner approval.”

Empower D.C. activists said they were pleased with the ruling. “We’re happy that we can still litigate on some of the counts around discrimination,” said Daniel del Pielago, an organizer for the group. “We’re still in the game.”

A spokesman for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, whose lawyers are representing Henderson and Gray in the case, declined to comment. D.C. officials have argued that they needed to close schools with low enrollment to use resources more efficiently and improve education across the city.

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

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