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Racial mix at K-12 schools at stake in case going to high court

The Supreme Court is diving into a debate over school diversity that is as old as Reconstruction-era efforts to integrate blacks into the mainstream and as new as the 5:35 a.m. start time on some buses carrying students across town in Louisville, Ky.  At a time of rising de facto segregation in public schools, the high court is to hear arguments Monday on lawsuits by parents in Louisville and Seattle who are challenging policies that use race to help determine where children go to school. The school policies are designed to keep schools from segregating along the same lines as neighborhoods.  Educators, civil rights advocates, politicians and parents not to mention students are watching for a potential watershed ruling on what value the nation should place on diversity in the classroom, and at what price.

A year ago, O'Connor and her colleagues refused to hear a similar school diversity challenge from Massachusetts. After Alito's arrival, the court surprised many observers by agreeing to hear the appeals from Louisville and Seattle. Federal appeals courts had ruled in favor of both school systems. 

Amy Stuart Wells, a sociology professor at Teachers College of Columbia University, said adults who attended racially diverse schools in their youth believe they are more open-minded and less fearful of other races than peers who went to segregated schools.  While racial tensions of the students' school years were challenging, Wells said, "when you talk to them 20 years later they understand what it did for them. They understand how it helped them in a multiracial society and in a global society."

This article appeared in the December 2, 2006 edition of the Associated Press.

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