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New Civil Rights Lawsuit Cites School Closures as Discriminatory

Two community groups join together to file suit against school closures

On May 14, the same week as the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, civil rights group Advancement Project and the group Journey for Justice Alliance filed three federal complaints with the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice stating that school closures in Newark, Chicago and New Orleans discriminate against African American students.

“We’re in a new era of separate and unequal,” Jadine Johnson, staff attorney at the Advancement Project tells Colorlines. “Inequity and discrimination still occurs in many schools across the country.”

According to Johnson, black students in Chicago make up 40 percent of the district’s enrollment, yet 88 percent of them have been affected by the 111 school closures that have taken place since 2001. In Newark, black students make up 52.8 percent of the city’s student enrollment, yet 73.4 percent of those students have been affected by school closures. In New Orleans, 82 percent of the district’s students are black students, with 96.6 percent of those students being affected by city school closures.

School closures are outlined as one of the turnaround options by the federal government for transforming failing schools, but statistics clearly show that African American students are disproportionately affected by the shutdowns. The city of New Orleans is set to become the nation’s first charter-only school district this fall, with the city having shut down all but five of its traditional public schools since Hurricane Katrina. These closed schools have been replaced with charter schools, and the majority of black teaching force has been pushed out as more white recruits from the Teach for America program have moved in.

The three cities listed in the federal complaint are not the only cities majorly affected by school closures, as Baltimore, Columbus, Detroit, Houston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh and St. Louis have all been hit hard with dozens of school shutdowns.

“In America, we have good schools being destabilized as a direct result of district policy and the continuation of destructive policies, and being repackaged and sold to us as school reform,” Colorlines reports Jitu Brown, director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. “We’re trying to call [Attorney General Eric] Holder to the plate and say, ‘You gotta swing.’”