Law & Courts

U.S. Opposes Race-Conscious Assignment Plans In K-12

By Andrew Trotter — August 29, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Bush administration last week urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down plans that use race to help determine where to assign students to public schools.

The administration argues in legal briefs filed in two potentially landmark cases that the voluntary use of race to foster diversity in student populations violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the law.

“School districts have an unquestioned interest in reducing minority isolation through race-neutral means. But the solution to addressing racial imbalance in communities or student bodies is not to adopt race-conscious measures,” says the brief filed by U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement in a case involving the Seattle district’s race-conscious plan.

The Seattle case, along with one from Jefferson County, Ky., will be argued in the Supreme Court term that begins Oct. 3.

The 97,000-student Jefferson County district, which includes Louisville, adopted a voluntary plan in 2001 after a federal court declared it “unitary,” or free of the vestiges of past racial discrimination. The district’s “managed choice” plan seeks to have a black enrollment of at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent at each school.

The 46,000-student Seattle district was never under court-ordered desegregation. It adopted an assignment plan in 2000 that considers race as one of several tie-breakers for its 10 high schools when a school is oversubscribed after 9th graders select their preferred schools.

In both Jefferson County and Seattle, parents of white students challenged the race-conscious plans.

Federal appeals courts in Cincinnati and San Francisco have upheld, respectively, the Jefferson County and Seattle plans, although the Seattle plan was suspended pending the outcome of the case.

The justices accepted both cases—Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (Case No. 05-908) and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education (No. 05-915)—for review last spring and will likely decide them by next summer. (“High Court to Consider Use of Race,” June 14, 2006.)

Parallel Arguments

In its friend-of-the-court briefs filed Aug. 21, the Bush administration uses nearly identical arguments to contend that neither of the plans is “narrowly tailored,” nor furthers “a compelling government interest.” Those are requirements for constitutionality that the high court has established for all government classifications based on race.

The briefs say the plans are indistinguishable from a racial quota, and the school districts failed to give serious consideration to any of various race-neutral alternatives to eliminate or reduce minority isolation.

Both plans are “devoid of the type of holistic, individualized consideration” that the court found critical for upholding race-conscious admissions in a landmark 2003 decision involving the University of Michigan, the administration argues.

Some legal observers believe that the Supreme Court might be poised to restrict the use of race in public education just a few years after the justices narrowly re-endorsed the principle of affirmative action in college admissions in the Michigan cases.

The Bush administration’s briefs stop short of calling for the justices to overrule the key principle from the Michigan cases that permitted race-conscious admissions decisions, as long as certain conditions were met.

Still, the solicitor general’s briefs met with immediate criticism from legal experts at several education organizations.

The administration’s position is “not a view that understands the realities faced by modern school districts,” said Francisco M. Negrón Jr., the general counsel of the National School Boards Association, in Alexandria, Va.

The federal position, he added, recognizes the existence of racial isolation and the ability of school districts to address it, but would deny them the use of race, which he called “the single greatest tool that’s available to school districts in addressing racial isolation.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as U.S. Opposes Race-Conscious Assignment Plans in K-12

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
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
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

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

Law & Courts Is Censuring a 'Rogue' School Board Member a Free Speech Violation? High Court to Decide
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments on whether official rebukes of officeholders trigger First Amendment concerns.
8 min read
Conceptual image of a board meeting.
A-Digit/DigitalVision Vectors
Law & Courts Critical Race Theory Law Violates Teachers' Free Speech, ACLU Argues in New Lawsuit
The lawsuit alleges Oklahoma's law harms students of color and weakens what all students learn about the state's history.
4 min read
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, above, is named in a new lawsuit alleging that the state's recent law restricting teaching on race and sex is unconstitutional.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, above, is named in a new lawsuit alleging that the state's recent law restricting teaching on race and sex is unconstitutional.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Law & Courts Parkland Victims' Families Reach $25M Settlement With Broward School District
The largest payments will go to the 17 families whose children or spouses were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Scott Travis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
3 min read
In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo
Law & Courts Justice Sotomayor Denies Bid to Block Vaccine Mandate for New York City School Employees
The Supreme Court justice's refusal involves the COVID-19 vaccine requirement in the nation's largest school district.
2 min read
In this Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 file photo, senior Clinical Research Nurse Ajithkumar Sukumaran prepares the COVID 19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer, at a clinic in London. British scientists are beginning a small study comparing how two experimental coronavirus vaccines might work when they are inhaled by people instead of being injected. In a statement on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, researchers at Imperial College London and Oxford University said a trial involving 30 people would test vaccines developed by both institutions when participants inhale the droplets in their mouths, which would directly target their respiratory systems.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Oct. 1 denied a request to block a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of the New York City school system.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP