Thursday, July 19, 2007

Around the Nation: Districts Determined to Strive for Integration

As districts across the country ponder the likely effects of the decisions on their own programs, local media cover the often disheartened response. Fortunately, most communities are committed to maintaining plans unchanged, or modifying them in order to ensure that they are in compliance with the law. Below, some of the commentary in more detail:

-- The superintendent of Mobile County Schools in Alabama has said that he will not change the enrollment practices of the district’s six magnet schools, which selects a student body that is even divided between blacks and whites. It appears that the district remains under a federal court order. An editorial in the Decatur Daily posits that the PICS ruling will have a negative effect on Decatur City Schools once a federal court’s desegregation order is lifted.

-- Chris Heller, counsel for Little Rock School District in Arkansas -- synonymous with integration for many Americans -- stated that the district will have to change its assignment policies once a court desegregation order on Pulaski County is lifted.

-- In Berkeley, California, the district believes that PICS will have “no effect on their current system”, which does use race among other factors in prioritizing school choices, while the San Francisco school board is less certain about their own plan. Further analysis of the Berkeley and San Francisco plans, which many predict may be at issue in future test cases, can be found here and here. Attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District plan to defend its practice of using race as a factor in enrolling students at the district's 162 magnet programs after the ruling. Articles also note that the district remains under a 1981 desegregation order.

-- The Connecticut school districts of Stamford and Norwalk are reviewing the decision to judge whether it will be necessary to change their existing school-assignment policies, which make decisions based on many factors, including race. Meanwhile, desegregation efforts in Hartford will not likely be affected, as students' area of residence, rather than race, is determinative of school assignment.

-- Broward and Miami-Dade public schools in Florida do not use race in student assignment, and therefore will likely be unaffected by the decision. Lee County, which was released from a court-ordered desegregation plan in 2004, will also be unaffected. An article about Hillsborough County, in the same position as Lee, notes that since the county abandoned its efforts, dramatic resegregation has occurred. Officials in Volusia County are less certain, as in their program some minority neighborhoods outside school boundaries are included to achieve a racial balance. Officials in Pinellas County, designing a new student assignment plan, will assign students based on their location rather than race.

-- Sam Harben, an attorney who represents some Georgia school districts, stated that some magnet programs may be in jeopardy. Several districts under court orders, however, such as Richmond County, and others with more nuanced and comprehensive plans, such as Muscogee County, will not be affected.

-- Six Iowa districts (Des Moines, Davenport, Burlington, Waterloo, Postville and West Liberty) currently use students’ race to determine whether they can open-enroll into a school or district as a result of the 1976 agreement with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. These restrictions will probably be loosened.

-- Stephen Katz, counsel for Rockford School Board, in Illinois, believes that the ruling should be of no consequence for the district, as their new system (since 2002) uses socioeconomic status and not race as a deciding factor for school assignment.

-- Since the 1990s, the Topeka, Kansas, school district has permitted students to transfer from their neighborhood schools to others when it helps improve racial diversity. It also built three elementary ‘magnet’ schools to attract students from across the city. Officials believe that that race can no longer be “a deciding factor” in school assignment. Wichita does not plan to alter its racial diversity program, since it is the result of a 1971 agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. District officials will meet again with OCR in August. Manhattan, KS, which uses SES rather than race to determine school district boundaries, will be unaffected.

-- Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, plan to continue with their current school assignments for the upcoming school year, despite threats from Teddy Gordon, counsel for plaintiff, of further legal action if the school continues to use their race-based selection system. One JCPS school board member states that the district may include socioeconomic status in future as a result of the PICS ruling. Superintendents in Hardin County, KY, said that their schools would not be affected, as they use only location and not race as a factor for school assignment.

-- District official James Easton believes that the decision will not have a negative impact on schools in Acadiana, a region of Louisiana comprising 22 of the state’s 66 parishes, but believes there may be a change in future enrollment practices. In Lafayette Parish, schools of choice and majority-to-minority transfers both use race as a factor in determining student assignments, and the plan may need to be modified.

-- Attorneys for plaintiff in a suit against a voluntary desegregation plan in Lynn, Massachusetts (a case which the Supreme Court declined to hear two years ago) are now asking a federal court to end the practice, citing the PICS decision. Twenty-two school districts in Massachusetts have state-approved programs to fix racial imbalances, including Springfield, Holyoke and Northampton, many of which are now in limbo. Also in jeopardy may be the historical Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), which has bused minority students to affluent suburban schools since 1966. School officials said the effect of the high court's ruling in Massachusetts would depend on the specifics of each school system's plan. The state Department of Education approves the plans, and Education Commissioner David Driscoll said yesterday that he would adjust them as needed.

-- In St. Louis, Missouri, the court-approved Desegregation Program appears beyond the reach of the recent decisions. Unlike both Louisville and Seattle, there has never been a decision that said the St. Louis school district had eliminated segregation.

-- The superintendent of schools in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, North Carolina, says that the school system will not be affected by the ruling, as it has not used race as a factor in student assignment in recent years. In Durham, geographical location is the only factor used for school placement purposes.

-- In Nebraska, Omaha Public Schools uses a program based on socioeconomic status and location rather than race; a school attorney has said that the decision will have little impact on the district's existing voluntary student assignment plan.

-- The New Hampshire deputy commissioner of education says that the impact of the decision is minimal in New Hampshire due to the state’s low rate of diversity, with 98 percent of students being white.

-- Several New Jersey districts continue to review PICS to determine its effect on their desegregation policies. McNair Academic High School, a magnet school in Jersey City, currently does use race as an important factor in accepting students, as it aims for an even number of black, white, and Hispanic students. Dwight-Morrow High School in Englewood, NJ, uses a system of specialized academies designed to draw students of all races from across the county after a court-ordered desegregation. Teaneck Township, the first school district in the nation to voluntarily integrate without a court order, will probably be unaffected, as the district uses “boundaries” to achieve integration rather than students’ races. Montclair County officials are still unsure of the effect on their magnet school system; but since Montclair is court-ordered to maintain racial diversity in its schools, the effect should be minimal. The district is considering economic alternatives to replace the program if necessary. Also at issue is the predominantly white town of North Haledon and its effort to leave Manchester Regional High School, which the NJ Supreme Court denied in 2004, saying it would create an unacceptable racial imbalance at the high school. A lawyer for North Haledon said previously the U.S. Supreme Court's decision would not override the state court, but the ruling is now being reviewed by the district.

-- In New York, Rochester’s Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program may be threatened, but some say the program is having only marginal success, leaving Rochester schools among the most racially segregated schools in America. Officials in White Plains School District have asserted that their school choice program was not invalidated by the PICS decision, as race is a factor but not the sole factor in determining school placement. Buffalo Public Schools, which do not assign students to schools based on race, will be unaffected.

-- Officials in Shaker Heights, Ohio, stated that the district no longer assigns students based on race and only on place of residence. A race-based placement program that had been “a national model for voluntary integration” is no longer in use. Columbus district officials state that the decision will not affect Columbus Public Schools, as they discontinued using race as a factor in school choice four years ago.

-- Officials in South Carolina stated that the decision likely will have no effect on the Beaufort County School District because the district doesn't use race as a qualifying factor when assigning students to schools.

-- The superintendent of Jackson-Madison County in Tennessee said that she is currently unsure of the effect of PICS on her district, which has been under a court desegregation order for 44 years.

-- In the Washington, D.C., area, some districts had already modified their plans before the decisions. Montgomery County has not considered race in assigning students to schools since 2000, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit declared that the school system's race-based student transfer policy was unconstitutional. Arlington County school officials no longer give extra credit to minorities when deciding admission to the popular Arlington Traditional Elementary School.

-- In Seattle, the possibility of replacing their current plan with one that considers income rather than race is being considered.

-- A spokesman for the Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction stated that the department was awaiting a review of the PICS ruling before drawing conclusions about the effects. Superintendent of Madison Public Schools Art Rainwater said that “none of the district's school-assignment policies would be directly affected by Thursday's decision because the district relies upon criteria other than race” and especially socioeconomic status when making such decisions. Schools in La Crosse also use socioeconomic status, and will therefore be unaffected.


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