The progress resulting from Brown v. Board of Education is slowly being undone as public schools are seeing an increase in racial isolation. Almost 40% of black and latino students attend intensely segregated schools whereas only 1% of white students attend segregated schools. The progress made post Brown is in reverse. In 2003, more black students attended segregated schools than in 1988, as schools are become increasingly segregated.
In a recent appearance on The Surreal News Show, Marianne Engeleman Lado, general counsel and founder of The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, discussed the role of the Supreme Court in promoting diversity in its interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause. The recent decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District indicates that the Supreme Court is undoing the work of local districts in their effort to increase diversity. Although this effort to increase racial and cultural diversity is consistent with the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Supreme Court is making it more difficult to meet the federal standards set by the Act.
In Parents Involved, the Court held that the district’s effort to address racial isolation within the public schools was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Specifically, the school district failed to show that use of racial classifications in their assignment plan was necessary to achieve the goal of racial diversity. In this particular school district, at the time 41% of enrolled students were white with the remaining 59% comprised of all other racial groups. Because of the varying degree of popularity, the school district took certain factors into consideration when determining admission, such as sibling attendance (this also increased the likelihood that the school would be geographically convenient). The second consideration was then the racial composition of the school and the race of the applicant. If a popular school was “not within 10 percentage points of the district’s overall white/nonwhite racial balance…the district employ[ed] a tiebreaker that selects for assignment students whose race ‘will serve to bring the school into balance’” and promote diversity.
The Supreme Court determined that the districts use of racial classification was not necessary to achieve the goal of racial diversity and that there are other means to address segregated schools. In her interview, Engeleman Lado mentions other efforts local district can take to promote diversity, such as redrawing attendance zones and developing new school sites. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has taken away one of the very few tools, and perhaps one of the easier and more cost-effective ones, that local school districts have to promote diversity. Redistricting school zones is likely to create an adverse reaction in local districts and may be challenged by parents who don’t want to see their school zoning altered. In essence, the Supreme Court is using the Equal Protection Clause as a means to hamper these local efforts to promote diversity. What is perhaps most concerning is the belief by the majority of the Supreme Court that racial diversity is not a compelling enough interest to justify the district’s use of racial classifications.
This decision also repeals the 2005 United States Court of Appeals 1st Circuit holding in Comfort v. Lynn School Committee involving an Equal Protection challenge to the district’s desegregation plan. In upholding the plan, the Circuit Court states that the school district has a compelling interest in obtaining educational benefits of racially diverse student body. The current composition of the Supreme Court doesn’t seem as convinced as the Circuit court that diversity in public schooling is a compelling interest. If it does, it is actively interfering in the ability of local districts to promote this interest.
This recent decision by the Supreme Court also seems to be in direct conflict with the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. This Act focuses on decreasing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. Local districts are facing extreme challenges in raising the funding necessary to meet the academic mandates of this Act. Now the Supreme Court has placed another obstacle in the way of improving student performance by interfering with a district’s ability to address racial isolation.
— JESSICA CARDICHON
(Photo: Sukanto Debnath)