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Civil Rights Officials Probe Alleged Racial Discrimination in NOLA School Closures

New Orleans has become the latest city in which the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights has opened an investigation examining whether school closures have disproportionately affected African-American students. 

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the Education Department is looking at the school closure policy of the Recovery School District, the entity that oversees the majority of the city's public school students. Last spring, the RSD closed the last five traditional schools it was operating and converted fully to an all-charter school system.

A complaint alleging that those closures discriminated against African-American students was filed in May by the  Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, and two local advocacy groups—the Coalition for Community Schools and Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes. The lawsuit contends that shutting down the last five traditional RSD schools disproportionately affected African-American children and that the school system did not provide good alternatives for those students.

The Department of Education said in a letter obtained by the Times- Picayune that opening an investigation does not imply that the lawsuit has merit.  

Patrick Dobard, the Recovery School District superintendent, told the paper that the school system seeks to protect the civil rights of all of its students and that the percentage of the city's African-American children who were attending failing schools had declined since 2005.

"We are confident that the USDOE's OCR shares our commitment to ensuring all students in New Orleans have access to a high-quality school," he told the paper.

The Department of Education is also reviewing similar civil rights complaints alleging discrimination in school closures in Newark and Chicago.

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