LOS ANGELES – A Latino civil rights organization is challenging the closure of elementary schools that serve high concentrations of Latino students in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), according to papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) is suing the district on behalf of seven Latino parents whose kids were transferred to other schools when their elementary schools were closed in 2019. Attorneys say the district shuttered three elementary schools without adequate opportunity for parents to give input and violated the California State Constitution’s guarantee of a right to education.

“Well more than half of California public school students today are Latino,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Ensuring fairness that will facilitate education equity for Latino students is essential to the future success of California; PUSD must redo its decision-making on school closures to reflect this imperative.”

Roosevelt, Franklin and Jefferson elementary, schools in the central and northwest portions of the district with high percentage of Latino students, were closed because of low district enrollment and as a cost-cutting measure according to the district. According to attorneys, none of the closed schools were in the eastern part of the district, which generally has a higher percentage of white students and a lower percentage of Latino students. Additionally, the district considered but did not close two schools with declining enrollment where the student population had a lower percentage of Latino students than the shuttered schools, attorneys say.

“PUSD failed to take into account basic racial equity when it decided to close three majority-Latino schools” said Erika Cervantes, a staff attorney with MALDEF. “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.”

Parents say the closures and subsequent transfers upended their children’s schedules, impeded their education – which had already been negatively affected by the pandemic — and caused them emotional distress.

Some of the kids were assigned to schools that did not offer the same curriculum as their old schools and a few lost access to programs such as STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) and Spanish Dual Language Immersion.  When they returned to in-person classes, some had been transferred to schools that required the parents to change their work schedule to match the new school’s schedule. The influx of new families at the new schools caused congestion at drop-off and pick-up points, the suit says. The son of one of the plaintiffs has a disability and requires weekly therapy sessions, which took place near his former school. He was transferred to a school that did not have the appropriate accommodations for his condition and that was more than five miles from home. Because his mother does not drive, he must miss class on the day he has therapy causing him to fall behind, the complaint says.

Additionally, one of the schools to which kids were transferred did not have enough room, and some students were forced to attend class at a nearby middle school, which led to bullying of the younger kids by the older kids, the suit says.

PUSD’s decision to close the schools discriminated against Latino students in violation of sections of the state’s government and education codes that prohibit the denial of state-funded benefits because of ethnicity or race, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs are parents Luz Becerra, Jose Flores, David Chavez, Belen Cid-Garcia, Carla Ponce, Jess Mancia, and Danae Tapia. They all say that they were not given enough notice before the closures to make other arrangements for their children.

PUSD serves more than 15,000 students in K-12 classes. The district includes Altadena, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

MALDEF is asking the court to order PUSD to conduct a new, equitable school closure process that complies with state government and education codes, as well as the California State Constitution.

Read the complaint HERE.