To the Editor:
It would be a shame if educators came away from your article “Use of Race a Concern for Magnet Schools” (Oct. 31, 2007) with the belief that race-conscious magnet programs are in serious legal jeopardy.
The U.S. Department of Justice, while supporting the legal challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court to the Jefferson County, Ky., and Seattle plans for voluntary integration, gave every indication that it would not reach the same conclusion with respect to a plan to reduce racial isolation funded by the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program. The explicit statutory purpose of that grant program is to assist in the “elimination, reduction, or prevention of minority-group isolation” in schools. It calls for districts to describe how a grant will be used “to promote desegregation,” and says that the secretary of education’s evaluations must address the extent to which the programs lead “to a reduction … of minority-group isolation.”
While the U.S. Department of Education in recent years has called upon applicants to disclaim racial intent, many applications state with great precision the numerical desegregation goals they seek to attain.
As a lawyer who helped draft the original magnet school legislation more than 30 years ago and who has negotiated settlements that included magnet schools in several school desegregation cases, I believe there is strong evidence that well-implemented magnet plans can improve education for all children. While care must be taken in designing voluntary desegregation plans, now is not the time for educators to shrink from measures that will serve the interests of students.
William L. Taylor
Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights
A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2007 edition of Education Week as No Legal Jeopardy Seen For Magnet Programs