Justices to Rule on Race and Education
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider an issue of enormous importance to parents and educators across the country: the extent to which public school administrators can use racial factors in assigning children to schools. The court accepted cases from Seattle and Louisville for its next term. The school districts in both cities defeated challenges to their assignment procedures in the lower courts. "Looming in the background of this is the constitutionality of affirmative action," said Davison Douglas, a law professor at William and Mary. "This is huge." In addition to the inherent interest in the cases, there is the added suspense created by the presence of two new members of the high court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., whose conclusions on race-related matters will be eagerly awaited. The court ruled three years ago that colleges and universities can take race into consideration when selecting their student bodies. Now it will decide whether the same logic ought to apply to public elementary and high schools. The ruling on colleges and universities was written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who has since retired. Seattle school administrators have wrestled for decades with the de facto segregation that tends to mirror the housing patterns of white, black and Asian families in the community. Students can pick among high schools. But since some schools have more applicants than they can handle, the district relies on tie-breakers, including whether a sibling attends a certain school, distance from a prospective student's home and race, to decide who gets into the over-subscribed schools. A group called Parents Involved in Community Schools sued in 2000, contending that it was unfair for the school district to consider race.
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