Closing bad schools — a civil rights issue?

Closing or reorganizing low-performing urban schools discriminates against black and Hispanic students whose schools are most likely to be targeted, charge community activists in the Journey for Justice Movement.

Closing neighborhood schools is “a violation of our human rights,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer from the South Side of Chicago, in a meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday.

Helen Moore, an organizer from Detroit, said the current reform movement is tantamount to racism. “We are now reverting back to slavery,” she said. “All the things that are happening are by design, by design, by design. They don’t want our children to have an education, but we’ll fight to the death.”

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating civil rights complaints against Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark. Closure plans in New York, Chicago and Washington also have been challenged. However, 27 investigations in the last few years found no bias in school closures. Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said the Education Department doesn’t have the power to order a moratorium on school closings. (Finally, there’s something the feds think is out of their jurisdiction!)

Why would anyone fight to the death for schools with low test scores, high dropout rates — and empty classrooms?

Urban schools aren’t just a place for education, says Sarah Garland, author of Divided We Fail on the end of school segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. “For most people their high school is part of who they are and who the community is.”

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  1. Right off the top of my head, I can think of six schools in my kids’ district that were either closed entirely or kept open with a new magnet program. The two ESs were sold/rented to private companies, resulting in an all-special-needs school and a Montessori school. One HS was closed and two attracted more kids with magnet programs; one IB and one math/sci. One MS was closed for a number of years, but was reopened when the cluster population increased. That was in a county where the population was growing significantly, overall, but unevenly, as communities aged and then saw an influx of young families. Detroit isn’t growing; its population is shrinking. Of course, it needs fewer schools and since the population is mainly black and Hispanic, black and Hispanic schools get closed. What rot.

  2. I’m from Chicago. While it’s true that the schools being considered for closure are low-performing, it’s also true that the district should have seen this coming years ago, and made plans for more gradual consolidation that are less disruptive. What was scheduled to happen this next Fall would have been total chaos. Now, High School closures are off the table because of fear of gang conflicts, and the list of possible ES closures is shrinking. Parents and communities are responsible for the push-back, and they are right. Community stability is at least as important as a few more points on a standardized test.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “Parents and communities are responsible for the push-back, and they are right.”

      Up to the part where the district checks start to bounce.

      If this is a cost saving move and the money just isn’t there, then you can’t just oppose closing the schools. You have to (well … should be) in favor of something else to save that money.

      My local K-8 district closed a school about five years ago. It was pretty ugly, but also pretty useless to watch the parents argue to “not close the school their kid attended.” Well … all the schools have that property for some kids. Now what?

    • Community stability? In Detroit, where they are literally pulling down buildings and cutting city services from some areas, because they can’t afford to provide basic services in almost-deserted areas? There’s also the issue of what those “low-performing schools” look like, in a city where essentially all schools are low-performing. Isn’t the overall “proficiency” rate something like 25%? The money to fund all the “stuff” people say is their “right” has to come from somewhere – and Detroit has been pursuing policies that have driven out productive citizens. It was in 06, I think, that the Detroit paper ran an editorial titled “Will the Last Person out of Detroit Please Turn out the Lights? Eventually, you run out of other people’s money.

      • I’m not saying there shouldn’t be some consolidation, just that the Chicago Public Schools should not have been asleep at the wheel for so long and then just sprung this massive school closing on the children all at once.

    • The schools should be closed and the administrators and teachers should be charged with criminal fraud and child abuse. The h’activists’ are responsible for perpetuating failure and are usually either union reps or paid activists. I was part of a team that established a pilot high school in Boston taking over a building from a closing school and the former administrators should have been in prison.

  3. Silly me. I would have thought that keeping the school’s open would have been a violation of their civil rights.

    I see this in my city as well. And I’ve never understood it. The continuing clamor to keep a school that, in the long run, harms the community. And all for some misplaced pride.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The schools are places of employment. Period. Sometimes the only non-minimum wage employers in the neighborhood. Close the school lose the jobs. This is called putting the economic interests of a few above the educational needs of many and it’s quite common.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    “The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating civil rights complaints against Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark.”

    Funny that. Strange all of the districts/cities being investigated are all located in the north or northeast. Not a southern city to be found on the list. Democrats mostly control those northern cities which leads me to ask – why are northern liberal progressives so very racist? Ironic what weird paradoxes one must embrace to maintain a blue state world view.

  5. The same dynamic applies in rural areas, where people fight tooth and nail against school consolidation, even though bigger schools can offer more clubs/teams/courses.

    But, as one old man told me, when Indiana consolidated, it ‘ripped the heart out of a lot of these small towns.’ Consolidating schools destroys local culture and weakens the bonds between community members… it makes sense that people would fight it. As schools get larger, they lose their cohesiveness.

    If you’re a nerdy outcast, this is a good thing (unless the small school is all nerdy outcasts) but, for most people, and especially for extroverts, there’s a real pain from anonymity and communities that have gotten too big…..

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      WRT the rural and far burbs: Absolutely true. Among other things, such schools offer auditorium space, if they have it, to other groups. The drama department, the class D bball and fball teams are the best tickets in town.
      Hard to give that up. The educational benefit would have to, among other things, make up for a long, long time on the road for the buses.

  6. Substandard education is a civil right?

  7. Perhaps part of the problem is that these communities have been ‘organized’ in such a way that the language of ‘civil rights abuse’ is the only argument they have at their disposal?

  8. Let’s keep in mind that in politics getting something, whether it’s really of value or not, has a value all its own.

    If you’re a “community activist” and you help keep a lousy school open that some members of the community want kept open you establish yourself on the list of people with “go to” credentials. That puts you one step up on the ladder of political influence which, to the community activist at least, is a worthwhile goal.

    If the kids are getting a rotten education, are in physical danger, if the school’s run by corrupt officials, hey, everyone has their problems.

  9. Maybe they’re tacitly admitting that the *school* isn’t the root cause of the poor performance.