RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

Bee file, 2013. Damian Arriaga, 7, right, gets a boost from mom Jessica Arriaga at a rally outside the federal courthouse where parents and students challenged the Sacramento City Unified School District's closure of seven elementary schools.

Closure of seven Sacramento schools upheld

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013 - 8:05 am

A federal judge on Monday denied a bid by parents seeking to prevent Sacramento City Unified from closing seven elementary campuses. The judge said blocking the district was not warranted based on the evidence plaintiffs presented in court.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, in her 39-page ruling, concluded that the plaintiffs "do not have a fair chance of success on the merits" of their claims.

A dozen students and their parents filed suit last month in federal court, complaining that Sacramento City Unified School District officials chose to close campuses in low-income and predominately minority neighborhoods that are "without political influence or organization" and, instead, keep schools open in predominately white neighborhoods.

School officials have said the closures are necessary to help balance the budget and estimated the district can save millions of dollars over several years by eliminating campuses that are underutilized.

The school district issued a statement after the ruling signaling that officials there are ready to move forward.

"Closing schools is never easy, and the decision to close seven chronically under-enrolled schools was difficult for all involved," the statement said. "With Judge Mueller's ruling today, SCUSD hopes to finally put closures in the past and move forward with our challenging work of providing the best education we can to the students we serve throughout the district."

The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Mark Merin and the community group, Hmong Innovating Politics, issued their own statement to the media, expressing disappointment.

Plaintiff Lisa Romero, vice president of Joseph Bonnheim's Parent Teacher Association, said she respected the judge's decision but was heartbroken "by the terrible consequences these school closures will have on my children and our neighborhood."

Merin, in his written statement, noted that the case was difficult "when we were prevented from showing that the reasons given for closing schools, or for selecting those specific schools for closure, such as budgetary reasons or efficiency, were pretextual."

He hinted that litigation could continue.

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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