The U.S. Supreme Court rejects race as a factor in school assignments

Based in part on a Seattle Public Schools case, justices ruled 5-4 that ethnicity cannot be used to determine which school a student attends.
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The ruling on student assignments in the Seattle Public Schools was big news nationally.

Based in part on a Seattle Public Schools case, justices ruled 5-4 that ethnicity cannot be used to determine which school a student attends.

This is the long-anticipated decision that resulted from a lawsuit by Seattle parents and another case from Louisville, Ky. Writes The New York Times, which bannered the story on its Web site: "In a decision of sweeping importance to educators, parents and schoolchildren across the country, the Supreme Court today sharply limited the ability of school districts to manage the racial makeup of the student bodies in their schools." Continues the Times story, which is the best in explaining the opinion itself: The court voted, 5 to 4, to reject diversity plans from Seattle and Louisville, Ky., declaring that the districts had failed to meet "their heavy burden" of justifying "the extreme means they have chosen – discriminating among individual students based on race by relying upon racial classifications in making school assignments," as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the court. While The New York Times has the best overview, both the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Seattle Times combine Associated Press material with local context. The P-I concisely explains how this all started: The Seattle case began when a group of parents formed Parents Involved in Community Schools and sued the district in 2000, claiming the policy of using race as a tiebreaker when determining school assignments was unfair and violated students' civil rights. Both local papers have reaction from the plaintiffs in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, who held a news conference today. The Times quotes Kathleen Brose, president of the organization: When the school district made this assignment they didn't look at the academic needs of these kids. They didn't look at the social needs of these kids. It's like they had no value except for their skin color. The thing that really bugs me the most about it is that they teach our kids in the schools that discrimination is wrong. You can't have it both ways. You just can't. Here's the Supreme Court's written ruling (1.4 MB PDF) and a transcript of the oral argument (352K PDF) before the court last December. Wrote Chief Justice John Roberts: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." The Seattle Times has a Q&A backgrounder about the Seattle Public Schools assignment system in which, until this lawsuit, race was used as a tie-breaker to determine who gets to attend what school. And here's a timeline. Here's a thorough backgrounder about Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District. The companion case from Louisville is Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education. The Supreme Court's decision today reverses an earlier decision on the Seattle case by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (477K PDF), which held that the school district was justified in using race as a factor in school assignments.


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