Kathleen Brose never understood why the Seattle School Board wanted to use race in assigning students to public high schools, especially when students from so many backgrounds already attended each.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling rejecting Seattle’s assignment program and another in Louisville, Ky., vindicated those concerns, Brose said Thursday. The court held that although fixing the effects of past discrimination is a legitimate reason to consider race, Seattle’s schools were never segregated by law or subject to court-ordered desegregation. The majority also took issue with Seattle’s “crude” definition of diversity, in which students were classified only as white or nonwhite.
“I knew years ago we would go to the Supreme Court,” said Brose, president of Parents Involved in Community Schools. “I believed so much in what we are doing I just felt we had to win. The goal here is to make sure all kids have access to great schools.”
Brose, who is white, sued seven years ago, after her daughter failed to get into highly regarded Ballard High or her other two top choices because of her skin color. The girl wound up commuting across town to attend Ingraham High School in the city’s north end, then transferred when a new high school opened at Seattle Center.
In Seattle, incoming freshmen can choose which of the city’s 10 high schools they wish to attend. If too many students apply to one school, the district uses tiebreakers to decide who gets in. The first is whether the student already has a sibling at the school.
It’s the second tiebreaker race that was at issue, even though the district stopped using it in 2002 during litigation in the case. In schools that were considered “racially imbalanced,” preference was given to students who would bring the school closer to the district-wide ratio of whites to nonwhites, 40 percent to 60 percent. It helped whites get into predominantly minority schools, and vice versa.
The parents group noted that under the Seattle School District’s program, a school that was 25 percent white, 25 percent black, 25 percent Asian and 25 percent Hispanic would be considered racially imbalanced.
“We’ve never said we didn’t like diversity,” Brose said. “We’re against discrimination. … There’s just other things they can do without discriminating.”
The school district did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but scheduled a morning news conference to discuss the ruling. District attorneys have noted that since the district stopped using the tiebreaker, Ballard High has jumped from 57 percent white to 63 percent white. One of the most popular schools in the city’s south end, Franklin High, saw its minority population increase by 8 percentage points.
A U.S. district judge in Seattle and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Seattle’s practice, finding that the district “has a compelling interest in securing the educational and social benefits of racial (and ethnic) diversity.”
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