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Join our campaign to save DC public schools and protect public education. read more
Empower DC is helping lead the fight against the demolition of public housing in DC. read more
As the DC government plans to close down community public schools to convert them into charters or condos, parents are fighting back. read more
Empower DC is organizing public housing residents in Barry Farm and Greenleaf Gardens to fight against the Choice/New Communities gentrification projects which will reduce the public housing stock. read more
Our Schools, Our Solutions!
National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education
Monday, December 9th
6:00 - 8:00 pm
Eastern High School
1700 East Capitol Street, NE
WOW! Time flies, right? Can you believe that Empower DC has been winning real improvements for low and moderate income DC residents for 10 years! A big thank you to EVERYONE who has made our work possible – those of you who have been with us from the start and our many new members and supporters. Empower DC has established itself as the most effective community organizing group in DC – and we’ve done that while being “unbought and unbossed,” which means not relying on government or corporate money, and never giving up!
[Read the full text of Parisa's letter here.]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, October 11, 2013
Contact: Parisa Norouzi, (202) 234-9119 x 100; Daniel del Pielago, (202) 234-9119 x 104
Key Elements of School Closure Lawsuit Move Forward
Case Brought by Empower DC Alleges Discriminatory Impact of School Closures, Group Granted Discovery as Litigation Continues
Yesterday, Federal Court Judge James Boasberg found that plaintiffs have established sufficient facts to allow the bulk of their case alleging discrimination in the city’s pattern of public school closures to move forward.
The case of Shannon Smith et al Vs Kaya Henderson et al was filed last March by members of Empower DC as part of an effort to stop the closure of 15 DC Public Schools in low income communities of color. After a hearing on May10th, Judge Boasberg did not grant a temporary injunction and the closure of 13 DC Public Schools was allowed to go forward this fall, however the court has yet to issue a final ruling on the merits of the case, which has now survived the city’s motion to dismiss and will be litigated further.
Communities throughout the nation have mobilized to fight the closure of dozens of public schools, predominately in low income communities of color, in cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore. To date, Empower DC’s suit is the first to have withstood dismissal, a point highlighted by Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin, a member of the group’s legal team.
"This will be the first time that a federal court addresses evidence showing that a school system closed majority African-American schools as a response to under-enrollment when it never closed majority white schools as a response to under-enrollment. In this case, thousands of African-American and Hispanic students face school closings east of the River and only two white students find themselves in the same situation. Equal Protection simply does not permit government to impose discriminatory and selective burdens on minority communities even in pursuit of otherwise lawful objectives," said Raskin.
In his 30-page opinion, Judge Boasberg dismissed some of the plaintiffs’ claims including those relating to compliance with the city’s statute requiring notice and input from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, as well as those relating to disability laws. However all claims were dismissed without prejudice, a judgment which signifies there has not been a ruling on the merits of the claim and the claim could be brought in another court.
The key claims of the lawsuit have been upheld by Judge Boasberg, meaning that the plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence for litigation on those to continue. As a result, plaintiffs will be able to move forward with the discovery process during which the defendants, Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Mayor Vincent Gray, will have to make documents and data available to the plaintiffs.
The Judge’s opinion states, “The Court agrees with the District on the bulk of the Plaintiff’s claims. Nevertheless, the parents and guardians have alleged sufficient facts to state claims of discrimination under the three civil-rights provisions at the heart of their case: the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI, and the D.C. Human Rights Act.”
Attorney Johnny Barnes, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, stated, “We are not unhappy with this decision. While the Court dismissed, without prejudice, many of our claims, it left the heart of the case in place. We plan to vigorously litigate the equal protection, disparate treatment and D.C. Human Rights violations aspects of the case in the weeks and months to come. We look forward to probing the minds of those District officials who undertook the school closings which the Court indicated on the face of the facts merits deeper inquiry. While we continue to believe that the ANC notice and citizen participation counts of our Complaint are strong, notwithstanding the dismissal, without prejudice, we shall likely pursue those purely local matters in another court in a case already pending. We are pleased that we were able to present a brief that caused the central theme in our case to continue --- unconstitutional discrimination in the closings --- while every other lawsuit filed across the Country has not met with the same success."
Empower DC’s members continue their campaign to save community schools, and the neighborhoods that depend upon them. “Our members never gave up their fight,” said Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director. “The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a court is empowered to order that schools be reopened, where discrimination has been found. We continue to believe that it is possible schools like Ferebee-Hope Elementary will be reopened at the end of this fight – as would be the fitting tribute to the parents and students who have been champions for their community.”
The Judge’s ruling is available here.
Washington Post August 25, 2013
By Courtland Milloy
When civil rights activists become elected officials, as often has been the case in the District, they sometimes encounter younger versions of their former selves. And the protests against them by this new generation can be as withering as any leveled by activists in the 1960s.
“What I see from elected officials in this city is contempt for the poor,” said Parisa Norouzi, 36, executive director of Empower DC, a group that promotes self-advocacy among low-income residents — through confrontation if necessary. “I see them coming out only for photo opportunities, trotting out kids for ribbon cuttings, while at the same time systematically trying to eliminate public housing and closing neighborhood schools.”
Empower DC works to preserve and protect affordable housing, ensure the creation of more affordable housing, and heighten tenants’ knowledge of their housing rights. We do this through developing the leadership and collective power of tenants directly impacted by the need for affordable housing
In 2012, our focus is working with residents of Public Housing to ensure they are informed about their rights and are able to collectively...
Empower DC’s Public Education Campaign is campaign is building an organized and empowered group of parents and community members concerned about DC Public Schools, who through collective action are becoming a political force and holding officials accountable to their needs. The campaign is currently focused on informing the public about potential school closures and organizing residents to demand investment in, not closure of, DC Public Schools...
Empower DC is assisting the historic Ivy City community with re-establishing a strong and sustainable Civic Association, and developing neighborhood leadership and strategic campaigns around several issues including the restoration of the Alexander Crummell School for use as a workforce development and community center..