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Civil Rights Office Investigating School Closures in Houston

The  civil rights office in the U.S. Department of Education is looking into a complaint that the closures of two predominantly minority Houston schools—Jones High School and Dodson Elementary School —discriminated against black and Hispanic students.

The complaint was filed by Charles X. White, of the Sunnyside and South Park neighborhood group, according to the Houston Chronicle.

School closures—primarily schools in minority neighborhoods— have been a lightning rod of debate in recent years. Urban school districts have responded to population losses and rising operating costs by consolidating and/or closing neighborhood schools and opening charter schools. But many parents in those neighborhoods have objected to the closures, arguing that they disproportionately affect minority students.

In May, the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project  filed three complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights division, contending that the closures and privatization in Chicago, New Orleans, and Newark, N. J., violated  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because they heavily primarily affected African-American and Latino communities.

The Houston Independent School District board voted in March to close Dodson Elementary School and turn Jones High School into a specialty vocational school.  The superintendent had proposed closing five schools, but that number was whittled down to two.

The civil rights office confirmed the investigation to the Houston Chronicle and has sought more information from the district. The school district says it is taking the complaint very seriously and is cooperating with the department's request for information.

"We believe that once the OCR has all the information it needs, HISD's intent of providing the best schools for all children will be clear," the district told the paper. 

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