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Judge Declines To Rule on Quotas in Boston

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A federal judge declined last week to rule on the constitutionality of the admissions process for Boston's prestigious exam schools because the school board has already agreed to throw out the existing system of racial quotas.

In dismissing a lawsuit that challenged the quotas, U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity also noted that the white girl whose father filed the suit has already been been allowed to enroll in Boston Latin School, the best-known of the exam schools.

A school district task force has proposed broad changes in the controversial admissions policies at the three exam schools.

The task force offered its recommendations to the school board last week. Under its proposals, 50 percent of students who apply to the exam schools would be admitted strictly on merit. The remaining 50 percent would be admitted based on the proportion of all racial groups in the remaining pool of applicants, according to Elizabeth Reilinger, who co-chairs the task force.

"We are committed to coming up with a better process for general assignments in the school district as well as the exam schools," Ms. Reilinger said.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposal early next year.

The lawsuit dismissed by Judge Garrity was brought last year by the father of a 13-year-old student, Julia McLaughlin, who was denied admission to Boston Latin because of the quota system.

Suit Sought Policy Change

The complaint said Ms. McLaughlin, who is white, was refused admission to the school even though her application showed higher test scores than those of 103 black and Hispanic students who were admitted.

The suit sought admission to Boston Latin for Ms. McLaughlin as well as a change in the 64,000-student district's admissions policy for the exam schools. The complaint claimed the policy of setting aside 35 percent of the spots at exam schools for minority students was unconstitutional.

In dismissing the case last week, Judge Garrity said that since an earlier ruling had allowed Ms. McLaughlin to enroll in Boston Latin this fall, the case was moot. ("School Ordered To Admit Student Challenging Quota Policy," Sept. 4, 1996.)

Earlier this month, the school board agreed to allow the girl to remain at the school to avoid disrupting her education.

The school board "can make the admissions requirements more stringent or more relaxed, but it won't affect Julia," the judge said in his ruling. He added that because the girl was already attending Boston Latin, changes to the admissions requirements would not affect her.

Judge Garrity, who was expected to release a detailed written ruling this week, also handed down the 1974 ruling that called for desegregation in Boston's schools and led to the exam schools' racial quotas in 1976.

Both Sides Pleased

Mark A. White, a co-counsel for the McLaughlins, said that despite the dismissal, the case should still be seen as a victory for the plaintiffs.

"We got everything we sought," Mr. White said. "The judge declared that there was nothing left to try. [Ms. McLaughlin] is in the school permanently."

A lawyer for the school district, Henry C. Dinger, claimed victory for the district. "There was something in the [ruling] for everyone," he said. "The judge recognized the legitimacy of the argument, but he put the decision for the schools in the hands of the school committee, and that's where it should be."

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