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How School Closures Across the Country are Failing Black and Latino Children

By  Inae Oh 

In some of the country’s largest cities, public school closures have become a familiar occurrence — a phenomenon some community groups have blasted as coming at the expense of minority students.

A new report from the Journey For Justice Alliance is airing those concerns, specifically calling out charter school advocates and so-called school reformers for proliferating widespread shutdowns which have disproportionately affected black and Latino children.

The grassroots education civil rights consortium has partnered with the Advancement Project to file three federal complaints with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the impact of school shutdowns is racially discriminatory and thus violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The complaints are also backed by the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions.

According to their report, New York, Detroit, and Chicago — cities with large minority populations — have in recent years each pulled the plug on more than 100 public schools despite mass demonstrations and community protests.

It’s even more jaw-dropping in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, public schools in the city have essentially all been shut down and replaced with publicly funded, privately-run charter schools. The transformation has left nearly 4,000 children out of an education, the report claims, because when public schools close, many students fail to re-enroll into another school, leading them on a “path to failure.”

Detroit — where 98 percent of public school students are of color — has shuttered 204 schools since 2000 and has lost a whopping 63 percent of its enrollment in the last seven years, while charter school enrollment is up 53 percent.

Outside of the charter school expansion, cities like Philadelphia have justified shutdowns by citing a lack of public funding and a need for increased austerity. But according to a Pew Research study, the money saved from closing schools has been relatively small and the sale of facilities has proven difficult.

“School closures are happening in different places for different reasons,” New York University Professor of Education Pedro Noguera told The Huffington Post. “In Philadelphia, there have been huge cuts; in New York, you have policies set in place by [former Mayor Michael] Bloomberg. To some degrees it varies, but ultimately the general impact is consistent: school closures are happening in poor communities of color… This report is calling attention to something that is most definitely happening. It’s not an exaggeration.”

The controversy over school closures was thrust into the national conversation last year when Chicago shut down 49 public schools, the largest single group of closures in history. The unprecedented move followed weeks of emotional public hearings and protests from teachers, students, and community organizers, all urging the Board of Education to keep schools open.

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