Addressing Diversity's Gray Areas: The New Supreme Court Desegregation Policies Leave Some Unanswered Questions

By Bryant, Anne L. | District Administration, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Addressing Diversity's Gray Areas: The New Supreme Court Desegregation Policies Leave Some Unanswered Questions


Bryant, Anne L., District Administration


ON THE VERY LAST DAY OF its 2007 term, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that will affect schools, school board members, administrators, students, and parents for years to come. The Court struck down the voluntary integration plans of the Seattle and Louisville school districts in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education.

The ruling; perhaps the most important since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, has left a lot of questions unanswered. The Seattle and Jefferson County public schools both took the race of students into account, although in a slightly different way, when determining which schools they would attend. The Court's ruling has forced school districts to reexamine how they assign students to schools while still maintaining a diverse learning environment. The following questions and answers will help school district administrators begin to address their concerns.

What does the plan mean for school leaders working on assignment plans?

We know that when children bring different histories to the classroom, everyone benefits. Research shows that students who receive their education in a diverse setting get a better education than those in a segregated setting: The dissenting justices agreed that the educational benefits of a diverse learning environment are undeniable. Justice Kennedy said in his concurring opinion, "A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation. Likewise, a district may consider it a compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population." While the Court's decision makes clear that race cannot be the deciding factor in whether a student is admitted to a particular school, the Court did leave room for districts to take race into account.

How quickly does my school district need to act to ensure legal methods of student assignment are in place?

No timeline has been established for compliance. School districts will find it difficult to make changes in student assignments for the current school year. What school districts can do easily is consult with their school attorneys before making a decision on a hasty policy. A deliberate, methodical review of student assignment plans can help to minimize the racial aspects of the plan and ensure that long-term goals are in line with the Court's decision. …

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