Lawsuit over D.C. school closures moves to federal court

A lawsuit challenging the District’s plan to close 15 city schools, filed by activists in local court last week, will now be heard in federal court.

The transfer comes at the request of lawyers for the D.C. government, who asked Tuesday that the case be removed from D.C. Superior Court to U.S. District Court, according to court records. Such a move is allowable in cases alleging violation of federal law.

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The school-closure lawsuit, filed by a coalition of activists organized by the community group Empower DC, argues that the District’s planned school closures would disproportionately affect poor, minority and disabled students.

The complaint claims violations of several federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

An emergency hearing in the case, originally scheduled for April 4 in D.C. Superior Court, has been cancelled because of the transfer to federal court. The case will be heard May 10 by Judge James E. Boasberg.

Johnny Barnes, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, is seeking an injunction to force the city to keep the schools open. He said he expects the judge to rule on the injunction before May 22, when the D.C. Council is scheduled to vote on the budget for the next school year.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson, named as a defendant in the case, has argued that the schools are under-enrolled and must be closed to allow for more efficient and effective operations.

Many elected officials in the District have said they understand and generally agree with that premise. However Perry Redd, who is running in the April 23 special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat, disagrees.

Redd, an underdog candidate representing the DC Statehood Green Party, was scheduled to protest the school closures at The Washington Post’s downtown offices Thursday afternoon.

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