Group files claim against Philly school closings, charging bias

Posted: October 04, 2012

Charging that the Philadelphia School District's school closings have disproportionately targeted African American students, a group of parents and community members has filed a federal claim hoping to temporarily halt further closures.

Members of the community organizing group Action United on Wednesday announced they had filed their complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Several stood on the steps of the district's North Broad Street headquarters, waving signs and chanting "Save our schools!"

In six of the eight schools that either closed or began the closing process in June, at least 13 percent more African American students are enrolled than the district average, the group says. It says the white population is at least 11 percent below the district average at seven of the eight schools.

Citywide, African Americans make up 56 percent of all students. At Harrison Elementary in North Philadelphia, closed in June, for instance, African Americans were 94 percent of the population. At Drew Elementary in West Philadelphia, also closed in June, 79 percent of the students were African American.

The nearly insolvent district will close up to 64 more schools in the next five years; its leaders say they are spending $33 million annually on empty seats and cannot afford to continue.

Action United members seek to halt the closings at least until an investigation and "community impact analysis" is completed, and said that school closings may not save the district as much money as it is banking on.

"This complaint seeks to vindicate the rights of Philadelphia students who have been disproportionately affected by the district's school closing decisions and ensure that future school closings do not produce similar disparities for minority students and students with disabilities," read the claim, filed Wednesday.

Darcella Cross, an Action United member whose children are grown, said it was urgent that action be taken before it is too late.

"We oppose these closures and demand that alternatives be considered before proceeding," Cross said Wednesday.

"Access to a high-quality education has been denied to African American people," added Theodore Stones, another Action United member.

To Marsha Moore, mother of a ninth grader at Communications Technology High School in Southwest Philadelphia, it's clear that the district has been failing her community for years.

"Instead of them bringing in the resources they need to make our schools better, they want to close them," Moore said.

A district spokesman said he could not comment on pending litigation.


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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