15 Clearinghouse Rev. 1010 (1981-1982)
Equal Protection Considerations in School Closures

handle is hein.journals/clear15 and id is 1060 raw text is: EQUAL PROTECTION CONSIDERATIONS
by Kirk Ah Tye

School closures are likely events when public school
districts encounter declining enrollments, and especially if such
decline is compounded by diminished revenues. Closing schools
is a legitimate means of economizing, because a district may
consolidate attendance areas and reduce operational costs. Ad-
ditionally, the school properties themselves may generate in-
come by lease or sale.
However, there may be profound equal protection con-
siderations when the selection of a school for closing discrimi-
nates by reason of race, national origin or indigency. Eliminat-
ing neighborhood schools transcends mere physical shutdowns
and student relocation, especially for certain minority communi-
ties. For example, the probability of educational failure for poor
Hispanics is increased because of historical inequities compounded
by cultural factors; their right to an equal education opportunity
may be undermined in a substantive sense.

schools. The response of the Santa Barbara School District2
was to close three of five predominately Hispanic elementary
schools in a system of eleven schools, without closing any
white schools. Five of the eleven schools were predominately
white in composition. While nearly equal numbers of white and
Hispanic students are enrolled in the district, the percentage of
Hispanic children in the district attending the three schools
chosen for closure constituted 30 percent of all Hispanics in the
district. Former students of the closed schools were and are
subject to one-way busing away from their neighborhoods and
attendance areas to white schools. Geographically, the closed
schools are located in contiguous attendance areas, constituting
a substantial part of the district as well as the heart of the
Hispanic community in the city.
The school district utilized race and indigency as princi-
pal criteria in selecting which schools to close.3 Indeed, the

There is substantial likelihood that minority and poor communities will
exclusively bear the burdens of school closures when white-dominated school
boards favor white constituencies.

There is substantial likelihood that minority and poor
communities will exclusively bear the burdens of school clo-
sures when white-dominated school boards favor white constit-
uencies. This political reality is augmented by the desire of
such boards to prevent the perceived threat of white flight.'
The poor, who are politically powerless, are also financially
unable to leave the public school system. This article addresses
discriminatory closures based on race and indigency.
School Closures in Santa Barbara, California
In California, Proposition 13 (CAL. CONST. art. XIIIA)
and dwindling enrollments, which reduce average daily atten-
dance revenues, have yielded fiscal hardship in the public
The author, Kirk Ah Tye, is an attorney with the Channel Counties
Legal Services Association, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.
1. Valencia, The School Closure Issue and the Chicano Community,
12 URB. REv. (Spring 1980).

chosen schools were among the top four in Hispanic composi-
tion and contained the higher concentrations of low-income
children in the district.
A lawsuit was commenced against the school district in
state superior court on April 19, 1979. (Angeles v. Santa
Barbara School District (Clearinghouse No. 26,665).) Plaintiffs
2. Reflecting national and statewide trends, the district will continue
to experience declining enrollments. It is projected that from 1967
to 1983 the district will have lost 52 percent of its enrollment.
Moreover, the loss in average daily attendance revenues in the
1979-1980 school year exceeded a quarter of a million dollars. Id.
3. The criteria were published in the district's promulgated plan:
1) Close those with the least adequate facilities and sites;
2) close those which are the most useful for other educational
or public purposes;
3) close those which will lead to the least long-term ethnic
and socio-economic segregation.
Although the third criterion seems virtuous, the district
intended it as justification for eliminating only those schools whose
students were predominately minority and poor. These students
would then be integrated at white schools.


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