The July 24 editorial, "Forget the lawyers, focus on the students," which criticized the parents who brought a legal action against the Sacramento City Unified School District for its decision to close selected elementary schools missed the point. The issue before the court was not the need to close schools but its selection of particular schools for closure.
The district selected for closure elementary schools that were located in struggling, poor neighborhoods, mostly those where African American, Mexican American, Latino, Hmong and other minorities are concentrated. The court issued a 39-page decision, finding that the school closures will have a discriminatory impact on racial minorities. The court also found "troubling" the district's removal of certain schools in affluent neighborhoods from the closure list, even though these schools were less financially "efficient" than those ordered closed exposing the weakness of the claimed justification for the closure of the selected schools.
The parents and community members in neighborhoods facing the school closures filed suit in federal court as a last resort. The district's flawed closure decisions left the communities out of the process until the last minute. Parents opposed to the closures attended school board meetings, attended community meetings at their local schools, made presentations opposing the closures, and called and met with members of the board to no avail.
The effects of school closures upon the children who are uprooted and reassigned, especially those from low income families, are far reaching, devastating and well documented. The plaintiffs submitted expert testimony which described how students who are transferred as a result of school closures experience vastly greater dropout rates, increased disciplinary problems, ostracism and isolation, as well as difficulty in regaining earlier performance levels. The editorial ignored these facts charging that the lawsuit was "counterproductive" and even characterizing the plaintiffs' advocacy of the interests of students forced to relocate as "an insult to the staff at these (new) schools."
The case has not been dismissed and may yet have a positive outcome. Hopefully, given the court's critique of the "disparate" impact of the closures and the "troubling" use of inconsistent criteria, the school board will be motivated to address the legitimate concerns of these parents, and all others, who want to preserve and improve their neighborhood schools and to ensure that their children have the same opportunity for a quality education as do students in more affluent neighborhoods.
Mark Merin is a Sacramento attorney who represents the plaintiffs in the suit against the Sacramento City Unified School District.