Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Soriano and Bass support lawsuit

Along with the Seattle Medium article Charlie reported on in his comment on yesterday's post, the Seattle PI today has details on the lawsuit I heard about yesterday on NPR:

School closures based on color, suit alleges

This lawsuit is disappointing to me, because I cannot imagine it resulting in any positive outcomes. If the lawsuit wins (which strikes me as highly unlikely), several small struggling schools stay open without necessary support to change, grow or thrive. If the lawsuit loses, all that has been accomplished is to fan the current obvious divide along racial and economic lines in Seattle schools.

I would counsel the Community Coalition to Save Our Children to put their resources into demanding the necessary support and resources for the schools that remain open --- top quality principals assigned to struggling schools, extra resources for individual tutoring, first priority for new programs that are viewed as desirable by families, teacher bonuses for moving to underperforming schools, first priority for business partnerships that bring in additional funds. The list could go on and on.

Parents and community members need to demand more from the district. But the demands should always make children and their learning the goal and the focus of any efforts for change. This lawsuit might make a political statement, but it won't improve the learning outcomes or environment for children in the Central District or elsewhere in Seattle.

As an aside, I'd like to be at the all-day Board development retreat tomorrow to see how the trainer/facilitator can work to develop working relationships and trust among a group who attacked each other in very personal ways, including making broad statements based on race, during the final Board Meeting on school closures. And now, the two Board members on the losing side of the votes in that meeting join in public support of this lawsuit. Can't imagine that day-long event will be much fun!



Anonymous said...

The Times finally wrote an article about this story:

Group files suit over closures of Seattle schools

By Emily Heffter
Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Public Schools wants Central Area residents to participate as the school district prepares to close a second school in the neighborhood. Instead, a group of prominent community leaders sued the district this week, accusing the superintendent and School Board of circumventing state law and its own processes to make racially motivated decisions about which schools to close.

Brenda Little, a former school-district attorney, is representing an African-American community group that includes a former president of the Washington State Bar Association and several ministers. The group, SOCKED — Save Our Children/ Kid's Education Defense Fund — has the support of at least one School Board member. Sally Soriano wrote part of the court filing.

Members of the group say some of the closing schools had been struggling for years due to a lack of attractive programs, deferred building maintenance and shrinking enrollment boundaries. District officials, the group argues, had determined which schools to close before hearing from the community.

The board voted to close six school buildings in fall 2007; another, Martin Luther King Elementary, closed at the end of this past school year. More than 80 percent of the kids at elementary schools on the closure list are students of color, compared to about 60 percent districtwide.

The School Board plans to vote by Nov. 1 to close one school each in West Seattle, North Seattle and the Central Area. The district scheduled three community meetings about those closures but canceled them, opting instead to meet quietly with individual school communities.

"If the discussion is about the ends we're trying to achieve, we want to be at the table," said the Rev. Carl Livingston of Grace United Methodist Church. "But if the discussion is about school closures, we don't think those discussions should be going forward. We think that there should be a study about the impacts it's going to have on all of Seattle's educational system."

Superintendent Raj Manhas is expected to make recommendations Sept. 18. "The real racism lies in the fact that if we keep schools with low population and don't provide the services in the classroom that they deserve, that's a fundamental issue," Manhas said.

School Board President Brita Butler-Wall said the larger community has had plenty of opportunity to talk about school closures. Now the district needs to talk with principals, parents and teachers at specific schools. And regardless of the lawsuit, she said, the district can't afford not to go forward with closures.

"I don't think the students are very well-served when we have more schools open than we actually need," she said. "I, personally, think it would be immoral not to" close schools.

African-American leaders say the early closure of MLK Elementary stung. Even though the school's principal volunteered to merge with nearby T.T. Minor this fall, the school's parent-group president and some teachers say they didn't get to play a role in the decision.

James Kelly, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, said he's not sure the district's closure decisions were racially motivated, but he does think the district violated its process, especially with the MLK closure. He's not alone, and that's going to make future discussion about school closures tough, he said.

"If people don't feel like their voices were heard — and they don't — then that makes that conversation more difficult," he said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Anonymous said...

I believe that this lawsuit is without standing or merit. In addition, I believe that it is misguided and unnecessary.

That said, I also believe that the District could have easily avoided this lawsuit. They utterly failed to manage the positioning of the closures and consolidations process. They allowed it to be a discussion of buildings instead of students. In fact, they encouraged it. That was a HUGE mistake. They allowed the discussion to be all about the negatives and hardly mentioned the positives. They spoke too much about the cost cutting and not enough about the investment.

I also believe that this lawsuit was predictable, yet the District took no action to avoid it. They should never have let it get this far.

Have the litigants tried a less drastic resolution? Have they talked with the Superintendent? Have they tried talking with the District staff or the Board? How is it that they can get two Board members to their press conference, but can't get a satisfactory meeting with the Supreintendent and senior staff?

Anonymous said...

You have GOT to read the stuff in the Medium about SOCKED and the school closures. It's hilarious.

These people have not taken any interest in the process or the students, but when they find out the M L King Elementary school is closing they become indignant and claim to represent "the community".

In addition to that, they get their facts wrong. Where have they been for the past year while the merger of King and Minor was put together?

Anonymous said...

The Medium has now printed a number of articles about the SOCKED lawsuit.

The publisher of the Medium, a leader in the new group, wrote an incendiary and abusive editorial about the closure of M L King Elementary school. It was not written from a particularly well-informed perspective.

On the 23rd, the Medium ran a story about the legal challenge that Ron Ward, one of the
SOCKED attorneys, SOCKED will present. It shows just how feeble their argument is. Mr Ward claims that when closing M L King
Elementary school, the District:

1) Violated their own process
2) Violated Due process
3) Violated numerious state statutes (RCW and WAC)
4) Violated I-200
5) Unlawfully delegated School Board authority
6) Failed to consider their primary responsibility to assure that the impact of their actions does not impair or obliterate the
welfare of children involved
7) Took actions that have grossly disproportionate and adverse
impact on children of color and poor children

Wow! It's pretty surprising that an otherwise intelligent man would
say or write such drivel.

1) The District's closure process is spelled out in their Policy
H01.00. The Policy does list a number of requirements. While I
suspect that they were all met, so what if some of them were not?
The District violates their policies ALL THE TIME. They can. The Court cannot require the District to follow their own rules when the District is perfectly free to change the rules at their discretion.

2) Umm... due process? What due process? There was no crime here. There's no due process here beyond the requirements of the law. As far as due process goes, there was tons of process: public hearings, open discussions, opportunities to send comments, ideas, and eedback, more public hearings, openly distributed documents, yet more public hearings, more open discussions, and open voting by the Board. What due process was absent?

3) The applicable law is RCW 28Z.335.020

Here is the entire law:

"Before any school closure, a school district board of directors
shall adopt a policy regarding school closures which provides for
citizen involvement before the school district board of directors
considers the closure of any school for instructional purposes. The policy adopted shall include provisions for the development of a
written summary containing an analysis as to the effects of the
proposed school closure. The policy shall also include a requirement that during the ninety days before a school district's final decision upon any school closure, the school board of directors shall conduct hearings to receive testimony from the public on any issues related to the closure of any school for instructional purposes. The policy shall require separate hearings for each school which is proposed to be closed.

"The policy adopted shall provide for reasonable notice to the
residents affected by the proposed school closure. At a minimum, the
notice of any hearing pertaining to a proposed school closure shall
contain the date, time, place, and purpose of the hearing. Notice of
each hearing shall be published once each week for two consecutive
weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the
school, subject to closure, is located. The last notice of hearing
shall be published not later than seven days immediately before the
final hearing."

This law was followed. Perhaps Mr. Ward didn't notice the public
hearing at M L King Elementary school. He didn't speak there.

There is no reference to school closures in the WAC other than
emergency school closures and the closure of school of midwifery.

4)I-200 has nothing to do with this because students were re-
assigned out of M L King (and the other schools) regardless of race.

5) I don't know what school board authority was improperly
delegated; it was the Board - and no one else - that voted to close the school.

6) I don't know what Mr. Ward used as his source for the "primary
responsibility" of School Board directors, but it wasn't RCW
28A.150.230, which is the state law that specifically states the
responsibilities of District school directors. Here is the full text of that law:

"(1) It is the intent and purpose of this section to guarantee that
each common school district board of directors, whether or not
acting through its respective administrative staff, be held
accountable for the proper operation of their district to the local community and its electorate. In accordance with the provisions of Title 28A RCW, as now or hereafter amended, each common school district board of directors shall be vested with the final responsibility for the setting of policies ensuring quality in the content and extent of its educational program and that such program provide students with the opportunity to achieve those skills which are generally recognized as requisite to learning.

"(2) In conformance with the provisions of Title 28A RCW, as now or hereafter amended, it shall be the responsibility of each common school district board of directors to adopt policies to:

"(a) Establish performance criteria and an evaluation process for its certificated personnel, including administrative staff, and for all programs constituting a part of such district's curriculum;

"(b) Determine the final assignment of staff, certificated or classified, according to board enumerated classroom and program

"(c) Determine the amount of instructional hours necessary for any student to acquire a quality education in such district, in not less than an amount otherwise required in RCW 28A.150.220, or rules of the state board of education;

"(d) Determine the allocation of staff time, whether certificated or

"(e) Establish final curriculum standards consistent with law and
rules of the superintendent of public instruction, relevant to the
particular needs of district students or the unusual characteristics of the district, and ensuring a quality education for each student in the district; and

"(f) Evaluate teaching materials, including text books, teaching
aids, handouts, or other printed material, in public hearing upon
complaint by parents, guardians or custodians of students who
consider dissemination of such material to students objectionable."

Those are the real esponsibilities of District School Directors
from the only authoritative source on the question. While I find Mr.
Ward's directive amusing, it is not a compelling argument or
statement of any kind. I don't think he will have must success getting a Court to enforce it.

7) As to the disproportionate outcomes of the closures and
consolidations, that could be argued because it is much more
subjective than these other statements.
a) To conclude that the outcomes were disproportionate would require
the use of the entire district's demographic as the benchmark. I
don't think the entire district is the appropriate benchmark. I
think that this action was in response to excess capacity and the
appropriate benchmark is the demographics of the schools with excess capacity.
b) To conclude that the outcomes were disproportionate would require
ignoring the school closures done before, when most of the closures
were north of the Ship Canal.
c) To oppose these closures to eliminate the excess capacity in
favor of a set of closures that would not create disproportionate
outcomes would be to prefer to close schools that are fully enrolled in favor of schools that people did not choose. It would prefer re-assignment for a much larger number of students. How is that preferable?
d) To raise this objection presumes that the closures and
consolidations create net negative impacts for the students. The
District believes that the closures and consolidations create net positives for the students. I have yet to hear anyone counter that claim.

It's pretty clear to me that the people who are coming forward now
to protest the closures are not concerned about the students, they
are primarily concerned about the name on one of the buildings. They
haven't taken an interest in this process, been involved in it, or
learned anything about it. Worse, for all their claims about how
much they care, they didn't do anything for years and years while
this problem developed and lingered.

Over the past six years a grand total of 17 families named M L King
Elementary school as their first choice for assignment. That's an
average of less than three a year. There simply were not many people
who wanted to enroll their children at this school. The low
enrollment was persistent. That's why the school is closing - not
because of any decision by the Board or the Superintendent. It is
being closed because the community, in the strongest, most sincere and authentic possible terms, said that they don't want the school.

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