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U.S. Appeals Court Backs Use of Race By Seattle Schools

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A federal appeals court last week upheld the Seattle school district’s use of race as a tiebreaker when deciding which students to admit to high schools.

In the Oct. 20 ruling, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, overturned a decision in the summer of 2004 by a three-judge panel of the court. ("Court Rejects Seattle's Race-Based Assignment Policy," July 29, 2004.)

Writing for a 7-4 majority of the court, Judge Raymond C. Fisher evaluates Seattle’s “integration tiebreaker” in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decisions in two higher education cases involving the University of Michigan and its law school.

“We conclude that the district has a compelling interest in securing the educational and social benefits of racial (and ethnic) diversity and in ameliorating racial isolation or concentration in its high schools by ensuring that its assignments do not simply replicate Seattle’s segregated housing patterns,” the decision says. It adds that the plan is “narrowly tailored.”

Under the district’s admission policy for its 10 high schools, revised in 2001-02, students entering 9th grade can select any school. They are assigned if possible to their first choice, but if a school is oversubscribed, the district uses a variety of indicators, including whether the student will help to racially balance the school.

In 2001, a group called Parents Involved in Community Schools sued the district, claiming the use of race was illegal. That year, only three high schools had more applicants than seats.

Last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston, upheld a voluntary integration plan used by the Lynn, Mass., school district. ("Federal Appeals Court Upholds Use of Race by Lynn, Mass., Schools," June 17, 2005.)

Vol. 25, Issue 09, Page 4

Published in Print: October 26, 2005, as U.S. Appeals Court Backs Use of Race By Seattle Schools

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