The Washington Post

Empower DC plans to sue over D.C. school closures

Grassroots community organization Empower DC plans to sue the District over Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s school-closure plan, saying that the closures disproportionately affect black students.

“The Constitution is colorblind. The proposed school closings are not,” lawyer Johnny Barnes, who will lead the litigation, said in a statement Friday. “Citizens who live in Anacostia are entitled by law to be treated the same as those who live on Albemarle.”

Henderson’s plan calls for closing 15 under-enrolled schools, all of them east of Rock Creek Park and many of them east of the Anacostia River. Those are areas where public charter schools have grown quickly — in some neighborhoods enrolling more than half of public school students, the chancellor said — and leaving DCPS with half-empty buildings.

“Ultimately we’re paying too much and offering too little,” Henderson told reporters Thursday morning. “There are too many schools, and too many small schools, to allow our students to get the full benefit of the resources that we have.”

Empower DC and other opponents of Henderson’s plan, including Council Member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), said many families have left DCPS in poor neighborhoods because the city failed to invest enough in improving those schools.

No suit has yet been filed. Empower DC organizer Daniel del Pielago said the group will describe its legal strategy in a press conference Wednesday at the John A. Wilson Building, shortly before the first meeting of the D.C. Council’s new education committee.

“Residents from every Ward have joined our campaign to stop the proposed school closures. We are ready for battle,” del Pielago said in a statement.

Barnes and Empower DC have led the legal effort to stop the city from building a tour-bus parking lot at the old Alexander Crummell School in Ivy City. In December, they succeeded in winning a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking construction of that parking lot.

I’ve reached out to D.C. Public Schools for a response and will update this post if I receive one.

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


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