Formerly Segregated Schools Should be Enhanced not Closed Warns TCRP
TCRP warns Austin district not to close schools
By Melissa B. Taboada American-Statesman Staff
Attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project warned Austin school district officials against closing schools on the eastern side of the district as a solution to underenrolled schools or to save money.
In a news conference the organization referenced a district facilities plan prepared this summer that identifies 18 underenrolled schools, the majority with large percentages of students who are black or Hispanic. Closing or consolidating such campuses, formerly segregated schools, would violate the civil rights of the students who attend them, according to the group.
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Because of where the schools are located, “the option of school closure is going to be a problem because it has a discriminatory impact and therefore is subject to legal challenge,” said Joseph Berra, an attorney with the organization.
“Let’s not be unclear: The schools we are looking at are in this position because of Austin’s history of segregation,” Brian McGiverin, one of the lawyers, said. “Choosing to close them would be abhorrent when there are so many other options that could be adopted to help these schools.”
The majority of the district’s trustees have said they would be against closing schools, and the district said Wednesday in response to the news conference, there are “no plans to close any school” at this time.
“I absolutely agree that school closures is not the way to save money in our district, saving the minimal compared to the devastation that school closures have on a community,” said Trustee Gina Hinojosa. “I am unaware of any plan or strategy to pursue the closure of any school.”
The problem of underenrolled schools has vexed district leaders for decades. The district has previously discussed making changes to its liberal transfer policy, as well as closures — all of which have met with pushback from parents and community members. In 2011, when a district task force considered closing nine schools, more than 1,500 parents crowded into a week of meetings to protest. Trustees were quick to toss out the proposal.
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The Texas Civil Rights Project is asking Austin district officials to instead put in place attractive programs and offer more services in those schools to boost enrollment, something district officials said they are already doing.
The organization also wants the district to use its position to push city and county leaders for more affordable housing and policies that would address segregation and poverty, some of the issues that create underenrolled schools, McGiverin said.
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The ACLU’s Racial Justice Program is committed to challenging the “school to prison pipeline,” a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished and pushed out. “Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage educators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools’ overall test scores. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline.
The ACLU believes that children should be educated, not incarcerated. We are working to challenge numerous policies and practices within public school systems and the juvenile justice system that contribute to the school to prison pipeline.