SIMMONS: Lawsuits start to pile up on plans to close schools

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There’s a list of them in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, New York and the District, and major cities on the eastern and western ends of Pennsylvania have lists, too, as do other cities.

As school districts grapple with dwindling public school populations, underutilized schoolhouses and what some cities are calling “dwindling” school funds, officials are proposing to close and consolidate schools something that never sits well with parents, unions or community activists, who often fight tooth and nail to keep neighborhood schools open.

But don’t think those closing lists are written in ink.

With the nation’s urban school districts right-sizing themselves by closing buildings and consolidating student populations, federal authorities and local authorities find themselves grappling with a most prickly problem lawsuits and complaints alleging racial discrimination. Shades of Brown v. Board of Education in 2013. Take the District.

The lawsuit, whose named plaintiffs are four D.C. families, claims the school closings will effect only two white students and says that such a “disparate impact” is unjust and violates federal laws.

Specifically, more than a dozen cities have filed complaints with the department’s Office of Civil Rights, claiming that school turnaround programs, which receive federal money, and school closing policies, which receive federal money, are violating Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities that receive federal funds.

The lists go on and on, and, interestingly, they are cities with huge black and Hispanic populations.

If school officials are prohibited from closing schools because one race or ethnic group is affected more than another, then it’s back to square one struggling to finance separate but equal school districts overburdened with aging, underutilized school buildings.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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