District Court Rules on DC School Closure Case

On July 18, 2014, the District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Smith v. Henderson–a case which challenged the closure of DC schools as racially discriminatory.

The plaintiffs in the case were parents of minority students at a few of the closed schools. The plaintiffs originally sued the District and its officials alleging that the school closings were discriminatory; that they had a disparate impact on poor and minority children; and that reforms like charter schools and performance pay for teachers will ultimately harm black students in the District.

However, the court found no evidence that the District’s current policies on school closure reveal a clear pattern of discrimination inexplicable on any grounds other than race. District Court Judge James Boasberg even noted in his opinion that there was evidence that both predominantly white and predominantly black undersubscribed schools had been closed in the District.

The court determined that demographics and residential segregation – not intentional discrimination – dictated which schools were under-enrolled and under-capacity. The court also found compelling race-neutral reasons for the closures. The District presented evidence that closing schools allowed enhanced programming at more schools district-wide. There was no evidence that educational resources were redirected to support teacher bonuses which disproportionately benefit white teachers or students. Finally, the court concluded that there was no evidence that the expansion of charters is racially discriminatory.

Click here to read the full opinion.