The school board’s decision this spring to permanently close six schools has rocked Jefferson Parish, where the number of students enrolled in public schools has dropped by nearly 10 percent since the pandemic began. The decline exacerbated the district’s nearly decade-long struggle to revive its enrollment after Hurricane Katrina, and district officials have said the closures are the necessary response to its shrinking student body. District data show that last school year, approximately 1 in 3 available student seats remained unfilled, and several buildings housed fewer than half the number of students they were initially built for.

“We have schools that are underutilized — that’s a fact,” said school board Vice President Derrick Shepherd at the April vote. “Math cannot be changed.”

The district has redrawn its map to redistribute its students, requiring many to travel out of their neighborhoods and farther from home. Officials have said the new maps will make bus transportation more reliable, and no teachers will lose their jobs. But the decision has brought ire from community advocates and civil rights lawyers, who say the closures are not only harmful to families like Malaysia’s, but discriminatory too.

Though white students make up nearly a quarter of the district’s enrollment, they represent only 12 percent of the students affected by the closures, according to state enrollment data. The plan the school board approved, which weighed which schools had the most empty space and inadequate facilities, closed two of its top-performing and majority Black and Hispanic high schools.

As a result, hundreds of Black and Hispanic students will be shuffled to lower-performing schools next school year — an echo, to some families, of the district’s segregated and racist past.

“Who is going to benefit from this whole process? It’s not the Black and brown children,” said Debra Houston Edwards, 77, who graduated from Washington over six decades ago and began working for the district in the 1980s, one of the few Black administrators at the time. “There is no equity in what is going on.”

Shepherd and board president Ralph Brandt did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In an email, the district’s communication director pointed to an online information page about the closures but did not respond to further questions.

In the meantime, experts worry that districts across the country may soon face a similar problem. More than one million students nationwide did not return to public school after the pandemic. Some enrolled at private schools, others began homeschooling, and still others seemingly disappeared, according to Thomas S. Dee, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. Amid declining birth rates, the Education Department estimates that national public school enrollment will drop by 5 percent or more by 2031 — a sharp change after decades of increasing enrollment.

Read the full article about school closures by Rebecca Redelmeier at The Hechinger Report.