Thursday, June 28, 2007

Where do we go from here?

In the immediate wake of this morning's decisions, school districts around the country are understandably concerned about their future ability to design, or continue to implement, plans to provide all of their students with an integrated education. An article in the Cincinnati Enquirer illustrates the worries of many communities: "Cincinnati Public Schools uses race as one of several factors in assigning students to its magnet schools, elementary schools that use specialized styles of education such as Montessori or Paidiea methods, or focus on particular subjects such as foreign languages." Given the reversal of the Seattle and Louisville plans today, what does the future hold for districts like Cincinnati?

It is important for these districts to realize that there is no need to be overly hasty in responding to these decisions, nor is there need to despair entirely. Certainly, the Court's dismantling programs that were the result of two communities' hard work and commitment to equal opportunity is a disappointment. But today's rulings were not a complete loss for those committed to fighting segregation and racial isolation in schools. A majority of the Court did recognize the importance of racial diversity in education, and found the pursuit of such diversity to be a compelling governmental interest. Although the particular combination of strategic elements in the Seattle and Louisville plans were found to be unconstitutional, five justices agreed that race can be used as a component of school integration efforts. Some options still available to schools were delineated by Justice Kennedy (in addition to several race-neutral strategies, which a majority of the court found to be unaffected by today's decision), and in the coming days and weeks, communities, local governments, and civil rights experts should take their time in working together to find effective, permissible plans to implement for their students.

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