18 Austin ISD schools underenrolled, group warns against closures

Blackshear Elementary School (Credit: Amanda Brandeis)
Blackshear Elementary School (Credit: Amanda Brandeis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin ISD released a Facility Master Plan this summer outlining a course for capital improvements and facility management initiatives over the next 10 years. The report also included information on 18 under-enrolled schools in the district, meaning the campuses are operating at less than 75 percent, with one school as low as 36 percent. Most of these schools are located in East and Northeast Austin. Contributing to that under-enrollment is a decrease in area student population and a large number of students choosing to attend schools in a different attendance area.

The district details several strategies to combat this problem, including consolidation. That proposal caught the attention of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who says the move may be unconstitutional.

Consolidation would mean combining two or more schools into one, essentially shutting down schools. Because most of the under-enrolled schools are located in neighborhoods that were traditionally segregated parts of Austin, the group says shutting these schools down would be harmful and unconstitutional.

“Austin as a city has never fully overcome it’s history of racial segregation, not really,” said Brian McGiverin, with TCRP. “In tone and sentiment we may be a different city. But in terms of where people live, we’re not all that different from the way we looked 20, 30, 40 years ago.”

He says Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits public policies that disproportionately harm minority children, among others.

“Closing one of these schools would be like opting for amputation instead of antibiotics,” McGiverin added. “So yes, a decision to close them without first trying other strategies, that could fix the problem without actually harming the students there, would be unlawful, and be unconstitutional…I think a lawsuit would certainly be on the table.”

“The better options are to look for enhanced programming, building community schools and really addressing the inequities with a strong firm policy,” Joseph Berra with TCRP added.

TCRP commends AISD for including other strategies in the master plan, and hopes the district goes in that direction moving forward. The district has already made some changes to schools on the list, including Blackshear Elementary. New this year, it has become the district’s first elementary fine arts academy, potentially boosting enrollment.

KXAN reached out to AISD for a statement, but have not received one at this time.

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