Judge: Group Can’t Block DC School Closures

A federal judge has ruled against a community group that sought to block Washington, D.C., public school closures by arguing that they disproportionately hurt black and Latino children.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that school officials were not intentionally discriminating against the students.

“In this case, there is no evidence whatsoever of any intent to discriminate on the part of defendants, who are actually transferring children out of weaker, more segregated, and under-enrolled schools,” the judge wrote. “The remedy plaintiffs seek — i.e., to remain in such schools — seems curious, given that these are the conditions most people typically endeavor to escape.”

According to the Washington, D.C., public schools web site this year about 69 percent of students enrolled are black and 16 percent are Hispanic. Additionally, about 77 percent of D.C. students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

According to the Post, the schools the district wants to close in June would affect only two children who are not black or Hispanic out of 2,700 children. According to the ruling, the schools on the closure list are about 94 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.

Similar charges of school closures hurting minority children have been risen in Chicago.

The judge also noted that community members were given enough notice of the plan. The suit was brought by the group Empower DC.

Related Links:

– “Judge declines to block D.C. school closures,” The Washington Post. 

– “Activists file lawsuit to stop D.C. school closures,” The Washington Post.

– Court opinion on D.C. School Closures

D.C. Afterschool Programs Asking Immigration Status of Students

The Washington, D.C., public schools began asking the immigration status of children applying to participate in afterschool programs for the first time this year, raising some concerns among members of the Latino community.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported reported that the school system apparently inadvertently issued a news release in error about the sensitive issue that seemed to indicate the practice would no longer continue. The Washington Times reported that the incorrect release quoted D.C. Office of Latino Affairs director Roxana Olivas as saying that asking children’s immigration status discriminated against families, eroded trust with parents and discouraged participation of parents in the program.

But school officials later retracted that release and issued a new release saying they will continue to ask status because of federal requirements tied to a $6.8 million grant the district received supporting the programs. District officials pointed out that federal funds cannot be used toward illegal immigrants, even though they are allowed to attend public schools.

However, they also said the district would use other funds to allow undocumented children to participate in the programs.

“While DCPS does receive HHS funding, it uses other funds to ensure all children can participate in afterschool programming,” the release noted. “DCPS has said that it has no intention of turning students or families away for afterschool programs or services. Parents who do not submit the citizenship documentation will still be permitted to enroll their children in afterschool programs.”

The dueling press releases clearly illustrate that asking children’s status can be a sensitive and controversial issue.

The Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed undocumented children to attend public K-12 schools. Recent attempts by legislators to ask children’s status and track the numbers of undocumented students in U.S. schools have stirred up controversies in several states. They’ve also caused civil rights groups to say that such actions discourage children from enrolling in school.

This incident in the District raises an interesting issue. In many communities, non-profit groups partner with schools to provide services and federal funds are used to help children in programs that extend beyond school hours. Have you heard of children being asked their status by groups, or even told they cannot participate in a program because they are undocumented? Does this practice discourage children from participating in these activities?

Related Links:

– “OSSE statement on citizenship requirements for HHS funded afterschool programs.” Office of the State Superintendent of Education. 

– “D.C. after-school programs get caught up in immigration politics.” The Washington Post.

– “D.C. clarifies error on after-school programs.” Washington Times.