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Pasadena Unified sued by Latino civil rights group over school closures

A Latino civil rights group filed a complaint against Pasadena Unified School over its decision in 2019 to close three elementary schools.

The district’s decision violates the California Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, according to the suit filed last week by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

“PUSD failed to take into account basic racial equity when it decided to close three majority-Latino schools” said MALDEF staff attorney Erika Cervantes, in a statement. “PUSD has placed these schools last when it comes to investment in the students’ education. Latino children deserve better, and we’re holding PUSD accountable through this lawsuit for its discriminatory practices.”

At the time, the district cited declining birth rates, rising housing costs and charter schools as reasons for the district’s dwindling enrollment. The district said the closures were needed to cut costs. Enrollment has declined by over 2,700 students over the last seven years.

Pasadena Unified made the decision to close three elementary schools in the central and northwest area of the district. This disproportionally affected Latino students and the decision was made with little transparency or notice, the MADLEF said. Parents learned about the potential closures about one week before they were approved, according to the suit.

At the meeting where the board made its closures decision, Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo called on the board to postpone the decision and engage with the community in a “more transparent process,” according to the Pasadena Star-News.

The suit outlines the fallout of the closures, which it says became especially pronounced as students returned from remote learning. Some students were bounced between schools because the school they were directed to became overcrowded. One of the shuttered schools, Roosevelt Elementary, was designed to serve high numbers of students with disabilities, and the suit states that the receiving schools had “substandard” facilities for students with disabilities. Some students lost access to unique programs, such as dual immersion or a STEM-focused curriculum, when schools were shuttered.

MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz said, in a statement, the district must redo its decision on school closures.