JEFFERSON PARISH, La. (WGNO) — The Louisiana legal advocacy nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is urging the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the Jefferson Parish School Board’s decision to consolidate several schools.

According to a statement from the SPLC, organizers have filed an administrative complaint with the USDE’s Office of Civil Rights, claiming the school board’s plan to consolidate and relocate several parish schools disproportionately affects Black and LatinX students and is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Lauren Winkler, a senior staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says before the Jefferson Parish School Board voted to close eight schools across the district earlier this month, they were alerted by community groups about what was at stake.

“When it became clear that several of the schools that were planned to be closed were predominantly impacting Black and brown families and communities, we started looking into it more,” Winkler said.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Jefferson Parish School District is 37 percent Hispanic, 34 percent Black, and 22 percent white.

On April 4, a day before the school board made their decision to move forward with its infrastructure and efficiency plan, which will consolidate schools that include Grace King and Helen Cox high schools, the Southern Poverty Law Center sent them a letter, asking them to delay the vote.

“We just ask for more time because this all has kind of happened very quickly since the beginning of this school year, and the communities and the families are very concerned and upset,” Winkler explained.

The school board, however, did delay the vote on the proposed school zone maps Monday night but did not address public concern.

“This is comment, not question and answer,” Jefferson Parish School Board President Ralph Brandt told a speaker.

Winkler insists community engagement is paramount in the process.

“You know, someone at the school board meeting last night raised a really good point that if it’s such a good idea, it can wait one more year and give people the time and the opportunity to have meaningful communication with the school board,” Winkler said.

In response to the complaint, the Jefferson Parish School Board released the following statement:

We are aware of the recent complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights. The 2023 Infrastructure and Efficiency Plan presented by Meyers Engineering/MGT Consulting does not discriminate against students. There is a process for obtaining interpreters for any meeting by request, and the district sent multiple messages to families in their home language about meetings related to the 2023 Plan. If necessary, we will provide a response to the Office of Civil Rights. As the largest and most diverse public school system in Louisiana, we value the diversity of our students, families, employees and community.

Jefferson Parish Schools

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