Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com

Jonathan Tran, an organizer, speaks at a rally earlier this month in support of a lawsuit seeking to block the Sacramento City Unified School District from closing seven elementary schools. A judge dismissed the case Monday.

Editorial: Forget the lawyers, focus on the students

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013 - 6:01 pm

Sacramento attorney Mark Merin alleged in closing remarks to a lawsuit, filed on behalf of a dozen students and their parents, that in the transition caused by seven elementary school closures in Sacramento City Unified, such students become "interlopers" at their new schools.

This is an insult to the staff at these schools, which has a duty to provide education for all students, including the newest students.

And the resort to the courts first – before trying to work with the schools to assure a successful transition or before considering that students might actually have access to more opportunities and more learning supports at their newly assigned schools – is counterproductive. These students deserve better.

Fortunately, a federal judge dismissed the case on Monday.

This should be a time for educating the larger public about difficult choices that the Sacramento City Unified School District has faced. Its elementary schools lost 4,000 K-6 students in the last decade.

Yet it has far more elementary schools than neighboring districts that have similar numbers of students or more. Sac City Unified has 56 schools teaching elementary students, compared with 43 in San Juan Unified and 39 in Elk Grove Unified. Yet those districts do not provide an inferior education.

As Sac City Unified officials told the judge, the sad fact is that the district is "unlikely to see an enrollment surge in neighborhoods hard-hit by joblessness, foreclosures and California's shifting dynamics." This district has not seen the end of school closures.

That should underscore the duty of the district, within the new school boundaries and with the new state funding formula, to assure that the most disadvantaged students get the interventions and enrichment they need to succeed.

The students represented in the lawsuit – including first-generation Mexican American and Hmong students, some with special needs and some who have parents or grandparents with difficulties navigating changes in the school system – would be best served by everybody getting together with a problem-solving mind-set to assure a successful transition to their new schools.

This should be a time for the school district to reach out. With just more than five weeks before the new school year starts on Sept. 3, the focus should be on student success, not on legalistic battles that make an already difficult transition to a new school even more difficult.

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