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Clay closure opponents ask federal judge to stop district's plans

A federal judge Tuesday gave the South Bend schools one week to submit a schedule for when it will give displaced Clay High School students a specific plan for where they can attend school next fall.

U.S. District Court Judge Phillip Simon issued the deadline during a hearing in which opponents argued that by closing Clay, the corporation might violate the federal racial desegregation order it’s operated under since 1980.

The school board in April voted 4-3 to close Clay because it has the lowest enrollment of the corporation’s four high schools while needing the most costly renovations. Attorneys Pete Agostino and Christian Matozzo prompted Tuesday’s hearing by filing a request to intervene in the desegregation case.

Matozzo told the judge that the corporation has “left everyone in a lurch” and that the closure plan already is causing harm to Clay families as they wait for the Department of Justice to decide if the Clay plan violates the consent decree. The decree, among other things, requires that a school’s racial makeup must mirror that of the entire school district.

Throughout the nearly two-hour hearing, Simon seemed to make points for both sides. He repeatedly pressed Matozzo on why he should let his clients, the nonprofit Save Clay Inc., intervene in the case when the Department of Justice is already monitoring whether closing Clay would violate the consent decree.

At the same time, the judge said Clay High families have a right to make plans in advance, and he won’t let the corporation wait until May to give them their options. Simon indicated he could require such a concrete plan be in place by November.

But the school corporation countered that it already has given Clay families their options. Next school year Clay students will be allowed to attend Riley High School with district-provided busing, or they can attend any other public school in Indiana under the state’s existing school choice system, providing their own transportation.

School corporation attorney John Borkowski told the judge, “Just because they have options doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan.”

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).