Equity & Diversity

Mass. District’s Race-Based Transfer Policy Struck Down

By Caroline Hendrie — October 26, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In a legal victory for foes of race-conscious policies in K-12 schools, a federal appeals court last week struck down as unconstitutional a Massachusetts school district’s policy of using race and ethnicity to restrict student transfers.

The ruling against the Lynn, Mass., public schools marks the second time that a federal appeals court has scrutinized a district’s voluntary-integration plan in the wake of a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions last year on the use of race and ethnicity in university admissions.

The court opinion on this case is available online from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

In July, a San Francisco-based court held that the Seattle school system also had failed to justify its integration plan under principles the high court laid out in its 2003 rulings in companion cases involving the University of Michigan. (“Court Rejects Seattle Policy Weighing Race,” Aug. 11, 2004.)

In the Lynn case, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit unanimously concluded that racial diversity confers important benefits in elementary and secondary education. The panel also said the district had made a good case that those benefits were compelling enough to justify race-conscious policies under certain circumstances.

But the Boston-based court held that the way the 15,000-student district was going about trying to realize those benefits fell short by assorted constitutional yardsticks. For that reason, the court concluded that the district’s policy violates the 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law of the multiracial group of parents that challenged it in court.

“We take no joy in this conclusion—the school committee’s motivations here were noble,” U.S. Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya wrote in the Oct. 20 opinion. “Nevertheless, while we may empathize with the school committee, this case aptly illustrates what government at every level should know: Charting a course that depends upon racial classifications is, in constitutional terms, a risky business.”

Yellow Light, or Red?

Even strong advocates of race-based policies to achieve classroom diversity conceded last week that, taken together, the Lynn and Seattle rulings signal to the nation’s school districts that they should tread lightly when making student-assignment decisions based on race.

“I couldn’t in good conscience say that school districts shouldn’t be cautious, and that these rulings shouldn’t be read to require greater caution from them,” said Chinh Quang Le, a lawyer with the New York City-based NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Lynn district.

Mr. Le said the “silver lining” of the 1st Circuit opinion was that the appeals court identified racial diversity in precollegiate education as a potentially compelling enough reason to make exceptions to the general constitutional principle to avoid race-based classification.

“What this court has found is that racial integration is important at the K-12 level,” Mr. Le said. Still, he said he was “immensely disappointed” by the outcome. The school system, backed by the state, had won approval of its system in the U.S. District Court in Boston last year.

A lawyer for the group of parents that sued the Lynn district said the nation’s schools should draw a different conclusion from last week’s ruling: “Forget about race-based assignments.”

“In this day and age, there’s no need to shuffle kids because of their color,” said the lawyer, Chester Darling, the president of the Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights, a public-interest legal organization in Boston.

Under Lynn’s plan, youngsters may not transfer to out-of-boundary schools that have a higher percentage of children of their own race if their home schools are out of racial balance under district guidelines. (“Mass. City Defends Use of Race in Assigning Students to Schools,” June 9, 2004.)

A critical reason that the Lynn policy fell short, the 1st Circuit Court panel held, was that it was aimed at achieving racial balance, rather than simply “a critical mass” of students of various demographic groups in each school. The court also said that the Lynn policy was overly mechanistic in its consideration of race, that the district had failed to give enough consideration to race-neutral alternatives, and that its policy lacked a plan for periodic review of the need to keep using race.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity States Have Restricted Teaching on Social Justice. Is Teacher Preparation Next?
A new Florida law will restrict what teacher-preparation programs can teach about racism and sexism.
5 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis signed legislation earlier this month that would restrict teacher training and educator preparation institutes from teaching on social justice.
Phil Sears/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years After 'Brown,' Schools Are Still Separate and Unequal
The legal strategy to prioritize school integration has had some unforeseen consequences in the decades since.
4 min read
A hand holds a scale weighing integration against resource allocation in observation of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Noelle Rx for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How a DEI Rebrand Is Playing Out in K-12 Schools
School districts continue to advance DEI initiatives, though the focus is more on general inclusion and belonging for all.
9 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024. State leaders in Kentucky are pushing the message of making sure all students feel they belong in school including by offering ethnic studies courses.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years of Abandonment: The Failed Promise of 'Brown v. Board'
If the nation is going to refuse integration, Black people must demand we revisit the separate but equal doctrine, writes Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
A Black student is isolated from their classmates by an aisle in the classroom.
Xia Gordon for Education Week