Chancellor’s Plan to Close 15 Public Schools Faces Opposition

Chancellor Kaya Henderson

Following last week’s announcement that 15 Washington, D.C., public schools have been scheduled to close, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Kaya Henderson testified before the District Council’s education committee Jan. 23 to discuss the rationale behind the plan that has sparked opposition from community members and local organizations.

“For the first time in a long time, people have hope about the District of Columbia public schools,” Henderson told the council.

D.C. Public Schools finalized the changes that will take effect at the end of this academic year, including the consolidation of 13 of the identified schools – the other two of which are slated to close the following year – and “several expanded quality program offerings.”

The initial proposal to close 20 schools was altered after DCPS received enormous feedback and eliminated five schools from the list. The revised and current plan will affect more than 2,400 students and 540 employees, as first reported by the Washington Post.

Some people are opposed to Henderson’s plan — but not simply because it will force students to relocate to different schools.

Empower D.C., a local grassroots organization, believes Henderson’s plan is discriminatory, “blocking the school doors for hundreds of black and brown students,” according to attorney Johnny Barnes.

Barnes is working with Empower D.C. to combat the school closings plan. Its litigation strategy was announced at a press conference Jan. 23 in front of the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, during the chancellor’s meeting with the council.

“We intend to vigorously and zealously pursue those legal avenues available to the parents and children affected so that all young people in Washington, D.C., have the same access to quality education,” Barnes said in a Jan. 18 statement.

Another feared consequence of Henderson’s plan is that DCPS will struggle to compete with the public charter schools that already serve more than 40 percent of public school students in the District, according to the Washington Post. Many worry closing 15 schools could exacerbate the problem, driving students to these charter schools rather than other conventional public schools.

However, DCPS says it believes the plan will ultimately prove to be advantageous, as funds and resources from the under-enrolled schools can be reallocated and more efficiently utilized.

“We’ve spent the last two months combing over every single comment, data point and proposal,” Henderson said in a Jan. 17 statement. “Now, it’s time for us to look to the future, for us to plan for the best ways that we can support our students.”

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