Parents Seek Court's Intervention in School Closures

Barrington M. Salmon | 4/3/2013, 4:42 p.m.

Empower DC and concerned parents are incensed by Henderson's January decision to close the schools, all of which are located east of Rock Creek Park in Northwest, a historical dividing line in the District between whites and blacks, the wealthy and the working class in the city.

Barnes, the former executive director of the Washington area American Civil Liberties Union, said it's troubling that even though Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Henderson are black, the overwhelming majority of the children affected in the proposed plan are black or brown.

"What you have here is that the government is treating people differently and that's a prima facie case of discrimination," Barnes said. "D.C. Public Schools is treating people of color and special needs students differently from other people, and that is illegal and unconstitutional."

Barnes said it's obviously discriminatory when public schools east of the Park are closed because of under-enrollment while schools west of the park and near Capitol Hill were kept open when their enrollment numbers dipped significantly a number of years ago.

Barnes said 30,000 new students are expected to be enrolled in DCPS over the next nine years and he asked rhetorically, "where will those students go if the public schools are closed?"

"We have to find ways to keep schools open," he said.

Barnes said several cities are dealing with school closings that include Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia. He noted that the lawsuit filed Friday was the first of its type in the nation.

"The other cities filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education but we have actually gone to court," he said. "This lawsuit is in the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education."

Shannon Marie Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the coach of the Ferebee-Hope's cheerleaders, said the school should not close.

"Our children are learning very well at Ferebee-Hope," she said. "We have programs in robotics and we stay open late to help children with their homework when their parents cannot."