Federal judge will hear case against Sacramento school closures

Published: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 8:58 am

A federal judge in Sacramento has granted a July 11 hearing on a lawsuit seeking to block closure of seven elementary schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, in issuing the order on Wednesday, said she will allow limited testimony from a plaintiffs' expert witness, Jesus Hernandez.

Mark Merin, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the judge's order means that Hernandez, who has a doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Davis, will be allowed to "augment and explain the basis for his opinion and conclusions that this is a case of intentional discrimination against poor and minority communities in favor of white communities."

Families whose schools are slated for closure filed the suit in June, alleging that the district chose campuses in low-income neighborhoods where residents have little political influence.

Defendants include the district, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and the four trustees who supported the closure plan – President Jeff Cuneo, Vice President Patrick Kennedy and members Darrel Woo and Jay Hansen.

District officials have said they identified campuses for closure based on how little each elementary school made use of its capacity, a measurement they said would save the most money.

The district, in a statement issued Wednesday, noted that the judge granted the school district's request "for an opportunity to challenge the propriety of (Hernandez's) qualifications and testimony."

"SCUSD will continue its rigorous defense of this baseless and unsubstantiated lawsuit that, unfortunately, comes at a time when steadily declining enrollment is triggering steadily shrinking revenues," the statement said.

In next week's hearing, plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction, which would block the closures until the case is resolved or both sides reach an agreement.

"I'm pleased she (Mueller) has put this on an accelerated schedule, recognizing the importance of making a decision quickly," Merin said.

Trustees earlier this year considered closing as many as 11 schools. After getting community feedback, they reduced the number of campus closings to seven.

The suit contends that the closures will require about 2,300 students from Washington, Maple, Collis P. Huntington, Fruit Ridge, Joseph Bonnheim, Mark Hopkins and Clayton B. Wire elementary campuses to travel longer distances to schools that often lack proper support programs, especially for special-needs students.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

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