Boston Declines an Appeal of Ruling on Admissions Policy

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The Boston school board voted last week not to seek a U.S. Supreme Court review of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down a race-conscious admissions policy at the district's prestigious Boston Latin School.

The board on Feb. 3 unanimously reversed an earlier decision to appeal the ruling after hearing from national civil rights advocates, who feared the high court might use the case as an opportunity to limit affirmative action.

"There was just a lot of concern about taking this case forward with the more conservative tilt of the Supreme Court," said Elizabeth Reilinger, the board's chairwoman.

If the high court "ruled against us," she added, "it could have the potential of dismantling affirmative action programs around the country."

In November, a panel of the Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled 2-1 that there was no legal justification for the district's policy of considering race for roughly half the slots at Boston Latin and two other selective public schools in the city.

The court ordered the immediate admission of Sarah Wessmann, a white 10th grader who was turned down by the school in 1997 despite scoring higher on an entrance exam than several minority students who were admitted.

'Not a Retreat'

Under the policy at issue, half the admissions to the city's so-called exam schools were based on test scores and grades, while the other half took into account race along with test scores and grades.

In December, the Boston board voted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, with Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant saying the issue was "so important that we must seek the final judgment of the highest court to give us clear direction."

Later that month, however, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged the board to reconsider.

In a series of recent rulings, the Supreme Court has made it more difficult to uphold race-conscious government action.

The Boston Latin case is one of several filed around the country involving affirmative action in selective public schools, and it could have been the first lawsuit of that type to be heard by the high court.

Ms. Reilinger said admissions to Boston Latin for the coming fall would be decided under a temporary race-blind policy.

But the district will try to craft an admissions policy that both is constitutional and promotes racial diversity. "This was not a retreat from our commitment to the principle of diversity," Ms. Reilinger said.

Vol. 18, Issue 22, Page 6

Published in Print: February 10, 1999, as Boston Declines an Appeal of Ruling on Admissions Policy
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