The decision to close a school can stir deep emotions in a neighborhood. A plan by DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to close 15 schools has drawn a passionate response from parents and advocates in neighborhoods across northeast and southeast Washington.
United by the grassroots group Empower DC, they sought an injunction to block the closures, slated to start in June.
The advocates insist that the planned closings are discriminatory, pointing out that among the 3,000-odd students to be impacted, only two are white.
Some who turned out for a May 10 rally also spoke about the personal heartbreak of seeing a neighborhood school shuttered. One of them was Marlese Turner, the mother of a son who attends one of the schools slated to close. “I am overwhelmed,” she said.
As the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School cheerleaders chanted “we don’t want our school to close” she began to cry.
The proposed closings will not hit every ward of the city equally. Ward 1would lose only Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson. Ward 2 has no schools slated for closing, though some families will be affected anyway. Ward 3 will not lose a school and is not expected to feel any effects as a result of the closures. Ward 4 will lose two schools. Ward 5 will lose four schools, including an alternative school, C.H.O.I.C.E. Academy at Hamilton, two elementary schools, and Spingarn High School which also houses the STAY program. which allows adults who have aged out of the public school system to earn high school credits. Under the closing plan, those students would now attend Ballou STAY or Roosevelt STAY. Ward 6, represented by Councilmember Tommy Wells, will lose only one school. Prospect Learning Center. Ward 7, represented by Councilmember Yvette Alexander, will lose four schools, including two elementary schools and a middle school. Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry will lose an elementary school serving grades pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade.
In asking for an injunction that would stop the closures, attorneys for the parents argued that the children would suffer “irreparable harm.”
But in a May 12 decision, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg refused to grant the injunction the families were seeking. In his decision, he noted that while the closures will affect far more minority children he saw no evidence that city officials have acted in a discriminatory way.
The District is now joining other states that have school closings in their most underserved areas. The families have said they will fight on and only the future will tell if they will manage to keep their schools open.