Michael Winsten, who is fighting a voluntary-integration plan in a California school district, says some people think the parents in his group are “not-in-my-backyard type of people” and don’t want their children to mix with children of other racial or ethnic backgrounds.
That’s not the case, says the lawyer and parent of five children. The agenda of the nonprofit group he founded, Neighborhood Schools for Our Kids, is to ensure that children can attend schools close to their homes, he says.
Mr. Winsten, and his wife, Cheryl, a paralegal, who are white, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit pending against the 50,400-student Capistrano Unified district, located in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
The lawsuit claims the district is violating Proposition 209—a California constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1996—by using race or ethnicity as a factor in drawing attendance boundaries for a high school expected to open in the fall of 2006.
Mr. Winsten says he doesn’t want his children to be forced to drive six miles to high school just so the district can conduct “social engineering” and try to get the right racial and ethnic mix of students.
Instead, he wants his children to be able to attend a high school three miles from their home, where he says they’ll be able to keep up the friendships they formed in middle school, and where they will still mix with students of different races and ethnic origins.
At the time of its passage, Proposition 209 was expected to stop the use of affirmative action programs that give preference to minorities in hiring for state contracts or admission to public colleges and universities.
But the Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest firm representing Mr. Winsten’s group, contends that Proposition 209 applies to K-12 education as well.
The Capistrano lawsuit was filed in June in the state superior court of Orange County.
The district has argued in court documents that it didn’t draw any boundaries based on the race or ethnicity of students. District officials simply examined demographics to make sure they weren’t creating a school that would isolate some students according to their ethnic backgrounds, the documents say.
Plus, said David C. Larsen, the lawyer for the school district, “it’s our contention that the plaintiffs’ reading of Proposition 209 far exceeds the intent of the voters.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 28, 2005 edition of Education Week