Lawsuit and Leadership for DC Schools

Columnist Jonetta Rose Barras, of the Washington Examiner, and Attorney Johnny Barnes discuss inequities and lack of vision in DC public schools with Thomas Byrd, host, and Virginia Spatz, feature reporter, on The Education Town Hall.

Full recording of May 16, 2013 edition of The Education Town Hall, broadcast on We Act Radio (WPWC 1480 AM in DC,

May 16’s feature report: Some Facts Regarding Judge Boasberg’s Ruling

Jonetta Rose Barras Applauds Education Committee, Lawsuit

Barras elaborated on several issues highlighted in her most recent Examiner article: She applauds the Education Committee for non-binding resolutions and budget measures designed to re-establish librarians, fund STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) programming at H.D. Woodson SHS, and fund the ombudsman’s position. She is especially pleased, she adds, to see the Committee address the “cruel” decision of DCPS to “invite” some 7700 students — of the 10,000 identified as “struggling” — to take summer school but provide only 2700 spots.

Barras finds the pending lawsuit against DCPS important, regardless of the outcome, because it is “raising questions about education policy in the district.”

Injunction Fails: Next Steps for Lawsuit?

Barnes offered an update on “Shannon Marie Smith etal vs. Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, etal.” This case seeks to stop school closures in Washington, DC, arguing that the closures disproportionately affect minority students. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled against a preliminary injunction to stop the closures.

The injunction is an “extraordinary remedy, not easily accomplished,” Barnes explains.

The case is not over. The battle is just beginning. This hearing was on our attempt to get an injunction, but it was not on the merits of the case. The government has not even filed their response yet.

The plaintiffs will announce further strategies within days, Barnes says.

Regarding the issue of racial discrimination, Barras suggests shifting the focus to class: “Many of the poor and working class people [affected by closings] don’t have the time…or the skills to adequately negotiate. They don’t have the same relationship with the government.” This isn’t a question of white versus black communities, she adds, but “the government has to do something extra to provide the service to some neighborhoods…more than it does to engage those areas.”

Race, Residence, Disability, and Class

“Since 1976, more than 100 schools in DC have closed, but not one school in Ward 3 [the city’s wealthiest area] has closed, even when those schools were seriously under-enrolled,” Barnes notes.

Meanwhile, Barras adds, residents in other parts of the city are contributing to the disparities by taking resources away from their neighborhood schools. “Black people — particularly in communities in wards 5, 7 and 8 — need to know that can control their destiny,” she says.

On air, Barras and Barnes discuss race and class in DC school policy, the need for vision in planning, and the importance of schools to their communities:

Barnes says schools, as essential gathering places, are a community’s “life and breath.” Barras calls them a “vital economic resource,” noting the impact of school improvements within Ward 6 on neighborhood “renaissance,” and suggests that school closings further disadvantage challenged communities. For more, listen, and then add yours comments here.

Listen to the Education Town Hall live on Thursdays at 11 a.m. (EDT) on

or check out recordings at your convenience on MixCloud

Feature Report:
Lawsuit and Judge Boasberg’s Ruling

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ruled on Wednesday, MAy 15, in lawsuit against DCPS.

The introduction to the decision declares: “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 ruling discusses the implications of “geography-based school-assignment” in communities with “racially identifiable housing patterns,” concluding: “In other words, under Plaintiffs’ rationale, no school that is overwhelmingly black or Hispanic – which the majority of D.C. schools are – could ever be closed without impermissible discrimination.”

The judge writes that the school system’s “desire for community input was no charade,” citing the fact that several schools were removed from the closure list.

In light of this ruling, just a few facts about DCPS and this consolidation plan:

No student from a closing school is being moved to a less segregated school:

Receiving schools:
Thomas is 97% African America;
Houston is 96% African American;
Plummer is 89% African American and 11% Latino;
Kelly Miller is 99% African American;
Hendley is 100% African American

The median income in areas were schools are closing ranges between $11,000 and $35,000 per year, while two of the five schools saved from closure — Garrison and Francis-Stevens — are in areas with income levels between $55,000 and $100,000, respectively.

Moreover, parents who testified for schools successfully taken off the closing list were overwhelmingly professional people.

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