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Published in Print: December 14, 2005, as Considering Race

Considering Race

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In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decisions upholding the consideration of race in college admissions under certain circumstances, several lower federal courts have had a chance to apply those rulings to student-assignment policies in K-12 schools.

Comfort v. Lynn School Committee

The Lynn, Mass., school district’s assignment policy says that for students who wish to transfer to schools outside their attendance areas, the district will weigh the impact on the racial and ethnic balance of the affected schools. The policy was challenged in a 1999 federal lawsuit by parents of students from a number of races and ethnic groups who had been denied requests to transfer because of the policy.

STATUS: On Dec. 5, the Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit that upheld the district’s policy. The Boston-based appeals court ruled 3-2 in June that the policy was narrowly tailored to the school district’s interest in achieving racial diversity in its schools.

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

The Seattle school district has an admissions policy for its 10 high schools that says entering 9th graders can select any school. They are assigned if possible to their first choice, but if a school is oversubscribed, the district makes an assignment based on a variety of indicators, including whether the student will help bring racial balance to the school. A parents’ group filed a lawsuit in 2001 challenging the policy.

STATUS: On Oct. 20, a 7-4 majority of the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld the district’s policy as narrowly tailored to achieve racial diversity.

McFarland v. Jefferson County Public Schools

The Jefferson County, Ky., district in 2001 adopted a “managed-choice” student assignment plan that includes the consideration of race for some student assignments. The plan seeks to have a black enrollment of at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent at each school. The consideration of race was more explicit at nine “traditional” schools. Several parents challenged the plan in court.

STATUS: On July 21, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, unanimously upheld most aspects of the district’s plan. The court adopted the reasoning of the federal district judge in the case, who had ruled in 2004 that the 2001 plan was narrowly tailored to achieve diversity, but that the racial categories used for the traditional schools did not pass muster.

Vol. 25, Issue 15, Page 23

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