El Paso Parents File Civil Rights Complaint Against School District

For Immediate Release
May 16, 2019

Hilda Villegas, Beall Parents Committee (915) 222-1977; hildavillegas021@gmail.com
Margaret Barnes, Attorney (915) 585 5108; mbarnes@trla.org
Nancy Nusser, Communications Director (410) 934-9588; nnusser@trla.org

EL PASO (May 16, 2019) – The Beall and Burleson Parents Committees on Friday (May 17) will file a Title VI Civil Rights complaint with the federal Department of Education (DOE) against the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD). The parents, represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), state that EPISD’s planned closures of Beall and Burleson, located in Mexican-American neighborhoods of South Central El Paso, violate their children’s civil rights by relocating them to schools in highly polluted, unsafe regions.

The Beall and Burleson Parents Committees and the community organization Familias Unidas del Chamizal will hold a press conference about the complaint on Friday (May 17) at 11 am at the Federal Courthouse (525 Magoffin Ave.). Copies of the complaint will be available at the press conference and in the following dropbox on May 17. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/q22xfhubfmvsl8f/AACqumu3dOJX7DRggQZctaG5a?dl=0

In January, EPISD voted to close Beall and Burleson for the 2019-20 academic year, which will force students to relocate to Douglass or Zavala elementary schools. However, Douglass is located next to a highly polluting metal recycling plant and close to an active railroad. Zavala is located adjacent to highways 54 and 110 and near the heavily trafficked Bridge of the Americas, which will subject students to heavier air pollution and a hazardous commute across the highways.

Parents also state that Douglass and Zavala will be overcrowded once students are relocated, and that neither school can adequately support children with special education needs.

“Our children have a right to be as healthy and safe in their schools as other kids,” said Hilda Villegas, whose son will be relocated to Douglass if Beall closes. “If our kids have to go to Douglass, they won’t be safe. Douglass is next to a toxic industrial facility; it’s near a canal, and there are trains going by constantly.”

Villegas, a leader of the Beall Parents Committee and Familias Unidas del Chamizal, is among parents who will file the Title VI complaint. Earlier this month, members of the groups held a weeklong hunger fast to protest the closure of the schools.

“Zavala is right next to two major highways,” said Crystal Rosales, a leader of the Burleson Parents Committee. “Going to school there will be like having to attend classes in the middle of a freeway. It’s extremely unsafe for my two daughters. By making them and other children go there, EPISD is subjecting them to a level of risk that other kids don’t have to face.”

The DOE complaint states, “EPISD’s school consolidations project and the actions it has taken towards fulfilling this plan violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because the consolidations would disproportionately increase students’ exposure to health and safety hazards on the basis of race and national origin.”

“Familias Unidas del Chamizal has been asking EPISD to evaluate the environmental risks at Douglass and Zavala elementary schools for years, but EPISD has decided against conducting any sort of environmental study,” said TRLA attorney Margaret Barnes. “In January, EPISD staff characterized the path current Burleson students would need to take to Zavala as a ‘hazardous route.’ We are filing this complaint on behalf of the Beall and Burleson Parents Committee because no child should face unnecessary health and safety hazards to go to school.”

On May 10, the Beall and Burleson Parents Committees filed a similar complaint about the school closures to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), requesting that the closures be put on hold and investigated for the health and safety of the students. State Representative Evelina Ortega and El Paso County Commissioner David Stout wrote letters in support of the parents’ position. (For the TEA complaint and letters, see attachments and https://www.dropbox.com/sh/q22xfhubfmvsl8f/AACqumu3dOJX7DRggQZctaG5a?dl=0 The DOE complaint will be added to the dropbox after it is filed on May 17. Additional related documents can be accessed by calling or emailing TRLA attorney Margaret Barnes.

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to about 23,000 low-income Texans in 68 counties. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and access to justice for low-income Texans by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.

nancy nusser