Equity & Diversity

Buffalo Settles Case Challenging Racial Preferences

By Caroline Hendrie — May 13, 1998 1 min read
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The Buffalo school system has settled a lawsuit by a white 6th grader who said she was denied admission to a prestigious city school because of her race. The district agreed to accept her there next fall.

Because the girl’s family brought the case individually and not as a class action, the settlement approved by U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin last month does not directly affect other applicants to City Honors School.

But the case, brought in October by Frank and Patricia Zagare on behalf of their daughter Elizabeth, has had implications that extend beyond their family.

Spurred by the suit, the Buffalo school board agreed in March to modify its selection procedures both at City Honors, which serves students in grades 5-12, and at a school for gifted students in preschool through 8th grade.

Under the revised policies, the 47,000-student district can continue to give nonwhite students a leg up in admissions but will no longer use race as a primary factor, district officials said.

“We’re not setting a specific quota like we did before,” said Superintendent James Harris.

Part of a Pattern

The Zagare case is one of several around the country that have challenged admissions procedures that allot seats based on students’ race or ethnicity. In most of the cases, those policies arose out of decades-old desegregation lawsuits.

In Buffalo, Judge Curtin last year ended a 21-year-old desegregation case that had required the district to maintain certain ratios of white and nonwhite students at each school.

Now that court supervision has been lifted, Paul D. Weiss, the Buffalo lawyer representing the Zagare family, predicted that other students might join forces to oppose the district’s continued use of race in admissions decisions.

At City Honors, among the changes to the admissions policy will be the use of an evaluation team that examines students’ full academic records, instead of relying on computer-generated rankings.

Mr. Zagare, the chairman of the political science department at the University of Buffalo, said his family does not oppose all considerations of race in school admissions. But he said the system as it was applied to his daughter was unfair.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 1998 edition of Education Week as Buffalo Settles Case Challenging Racial Preferences

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