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Federal Judge Dismisses Much of Suit to Stop DC School Closures | The Nation

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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Federal Judge Dismisses Much of Suit to Stop DC School Closures

A mural depicts a student entering the closed Alexander Wilson Elementary School in West Philadelphia. Across the nation, public schools have suffered over the past few years as the recession prompted cuts in state education funding and losses in property tax revenues (Reuters/Tom Mihalek).

A federal judge has dismissed most of a lawsuit seeking to stop the closure of fifteen DC public schools, but is allowing several of the plaintiffs’ civil rights claims to move forward, The Washington Post reports.

In March, activists with the community group Empower D.C. filed the lawsuit in March as part of an effort to stop thirteen of the schools from being closed in June. The activists argue the school closures violate a number of local and federal laws, including civil rights provisions because the closures disproportionately affect black, Hispanic and disabled children.

Of the 2,700 students who will be impacted by the closings, just two (less than 0.01 percent) are white, even though white students account for 9 percent of the overall District of Columbia public school student population, according to district budget expert Mary Levy.

Conversely, African-Americans make up 93 percent of those affected despite making up just 72 percent of the district student body.

But Judge James E. Boasberg appeared skeptical of the activists’ position, saying that their civil rights arguments “may ultimately be too slender a reed” on which to hang their case. However, under the law, he said they deserve time to gather and present information before he issues a final ruling.

Despite Boasberg dismissing most of the lawsuit, Empower D.C. activists say they’re pleased with the ruling.

“We’re happy that we can still litigate on some of the counts around discrimination,” said Daniel del Pielago, an organizer for the group, to The Washington Post. “We’re still in the game.”

Meanwhile, Philadelphia officials are calling for a review of school budgets cuts that they believe might have contributed to the death of a sixth-grader.

Laporshia Massey was laid to rest this week after her death from asthma, following budget cuts that eliminated the school nurse officials say may have saved her life.

City Paper reports Massey, 12, had complained during the school day of symptoms related to her asthma. However, Bryant Elementary School only has a nurse on staff two days a week in the wake of severe budget cuts.

Massey called Sherri Mitchell, her father’s fiancée, telling her, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Mitchell and Daniel Burch, Massey’s father, didn’t know how severe Massey’s condition was, and so they waited for her to get home, believing they could then take her for treatment. Once home, Massey grabbed her nebulizer before he father rushed her to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but Massey collapsed in the car, so her father instead jumped out and flagged down an ambulance.

But by then it was too late.

Representative Ron Waters told City Paper: “We don’t have the people in place in the schools right now that can provide necessary services to our students. At the end of the day, there’s only but so much that any building can provide if it has to deal with skeleton operation.”

Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell added: “Without school nurses, she didn’t feel well, where could she go? You got to call emergency when you think it’s at that point.”

In response to budgetary shortfalls, the School District of Philadelphia laid off forty-seven nurses in December 2011. Additional layoffs and retiring nurses resulted in a net loss of more than 100 school nurses in the 2011–12 school year, according to a report by the Education Law Center (PDF).

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While schools are required to offer some level of healthcare, the current student-to-nurse ration is 1,500 students for every one nurse.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote to Governor John Corbett, decrying the tragedy.

“We’ll never know if having a school nurse on site could have spared Laporshia’s life, but we do know that school nurses are trained to detect symptoms of asthma attacks,” Weingarten wrote on October 11. “We know that 1 in 11 children nationwide have asthma. And we know that in Philadelphia, the statistic is closer to 1 in 5.”

Weingarten also asked that Corbett release $45 million of federal funding he has been withholding from the district until the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers signs a new contract that would require educators to take a massive pay cut.

Meet the senator using the government shutdown to shill for the medical-device lobby.

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