Supreme Court Endorses Racial Segregation in Schools

News & Politics
This post, written by Elizabeth Hartline Green, originally appeared on DMI Blog

Today, in the latest in a 5-4, the court said that schools no longer could use race to help integrate their students.

The cases in question, Parent Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith, custodial parent and next friend of McDonald V. Jefferson County Board of Ed et al , had to do with the right of school districts to use race as a minor factor in determining school placement in certain circumstances (the decision applied to both cases). The two plans, one in Louisville and one in Seattle, are not easily summarized, but Louisville's involves school transfers for parents who want their children to attend a school outside of their assigned district and Seattle's is for determining which high school a student is assigned to.

Several things are very interesting about these cases. The mother who brought the case against Louisville missed kindergarten registration and thus could not enroll her child in her neighborhood school or second choice school because both were over their racial quotas. Two years later, she reapplied to the neighborhood school and her son was granted a transfer to his neighborhood school. In seven of the ten district high schools in Seattle, race wasn't used as a factor at all in determining admissions; race is only considered after a school has more students than spots at the school and the school is outside of the racial quotas set by the district, and as secondary "tie-breaker" factor (the first tie-breaker in their system is whether the student has a sibling at the school already). Both districts adopted the policies voluntarily, to promote student integration, and are popular among parents. The issue in question was whether a school district can ever use race as a determining factor, no matter how minor that factor is, if a school district is not under court orders to desegregate.

One thing to remember is this: in most of the school districts in the country, parents have no say at all in where their children go to school. The majority of school districts limit registration to neighborhood schools, so where you live is where you go. The two districts in question allow their students a great deal of freedom in deciding where to go; in the terms of Justice Kennedy in oral arguments,
"the question is whether or not you can get into the school that you really prefer. And in some cases that depends solely on skin color. It's like saying everyone can have a meal but only people with separate skin can get the dessert."

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