Report Card

News and discussion on K-12 schools in the greater Sacramento region

June 11, 2013
Students sue to block Sacramento City Unified school closures

Updated at 11:50 a.m. with district response.

A dozen minority students and their parents have filed suit in federal court to block closure of seven elementary schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Attorney Mark Merin filed the suit late Monday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on behalf of the students, their guardians and three parent-teacher associations at closing schools. The suit complains the schools designated for closure were chosen because they are in an area "without political influence or organization" - south Sacramento - and have disproportionately low-income and minority populations.

The schools' selection "was motivated by an intent to discriminate against minority populations which dominate in these schools," the suit states. The closures, unless halted, will have a "disastrous discriminatory effect on the poor, disadvantaged population" that relies on the campuses, the suit said.

District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and Board President Jeff Cuneo called the action "an unsubstantiated and baseless lawsuit" that would be costly for the district.

Hmong Innovating Politics, which aims to strengthen civic participation of underprivileged communities, is planning a rally of local residents and a press conference today at 4 p.m. at the federal courthouse in downtown Sacramento to detail the legal case.

Activists cite the long-term detrimental impact of the closures on our most vulnerable population - low-income students of color - and highlight "intentional discrimination and negligence."

School trustees voted earlier this year to close Washington, Maple, Collis P. Huntington, Fruit Ridge, Joseph Bonnheim, Mark Hopkins and Clayton B. Wire elementary schools, citing falling enrollment. The decision requires students to attend other, more distant schools that may not offer the same programs that were available at the closing schools, according to the suit.

The suit cites violations of federal and state constitutions, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other constitutional and state laws.

Named as defendants are the district, Superintendent Raymond and the four trustees who supported the closure plan - Board President Cuneo, Vice President Patrick Kennedy and board members Darrel Woo and Jay Hansen.

Sacramento City Unified trustees originally considered closing as many as 11 schools before voting on seven after receiving community feedback. District officials said they identified campuses for closure based on how little each elementary school used its capacity, a measurement they suggested would save the most money.

In their email statement, Raymond and Cuneo said, "Given the fiscal conditions that led to the decision to close schools, it's unfortunate that the district must now spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend an unsubstantiated and baseless lawsuit.

"The decision four months ago to close seven of our most under-enrolled schools was precipitated by the current and ongoing budgetary burden of operating and staffing these schools. Prior to this decision, SCUSD's 56 elementary schools were enrolled at just 56 percent of their capacity, a model that is both educationally inefficient and fiscally unsustainable. Had the district failed to take action, it would have run the unacceptable risk of a "negative" financial rating and start the district down the road to state takeover."

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About Report Card

Loretta KalbLoretta Kalb started her reporting career at The Sacramento Union, moved to KOVR-13 as a television reporter, editor and producer, headed to The Associated Press in San Francisco and eventually returned to Sacramento and joined The Sacramento Bee. Throughout her career, she has covered the state Legislature, courts, local government and, now, education. She is a Chico native and an Elk Grove resident.

Diana LambertDiana Lambert began her journalism career as a proofreader at the Lodi News-Sentinel. She is now a senior writer at The Sacramento Bee covering K-12 education and California State University, Sacramento. Previously she was The Bee’s Elk Grove bureau chief. Lambert was raised in a military family and lived at bases around the globe. She attended four high schools, graduating from Tokay High in Lodi and then Sacramento State University. She lives in Elk Grove.

(916) 321-1073
Twitter: @LorettaSacBee
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