Parents Sue Capistrano Unified School District

Pacific Legal Foundation, June 16

Santa Ana,CA—Parents of students in the Capistrano Unified School District today filed suit against the district, charging it with violating Proposition 209 of the California Constitution by using race to determine new attendance boundaries for district high schools and middle schools.

Neighborhood Schools For Our Kids, a coalition of parents and taxpayers in the district, is being represented by Pacific Legal Foundation in the suit, which asks a state Superior Court to prohibit the school district from using race to determine where students will attend middle and high school.

“This racial gerrymandering violates the California Constitution and hurts students who are pulled from their local schools for no good reason,” said Arthur B. Mark III, an attorney for the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation. “Instead of following the law, school district officials are checking students’ race and deciding where they should go to school based on the color of their skin. What kind of example is that for students?”

The district acknowledges using race as a key criterion in setting new school boundaries—attempting to ensure that each high school has no more than 35% minority students. The boundaries are being redrawn as the district opens its sixth high school, San Juan Hills High School, in 2006.

The result for some students is they will be forced to travel 10 miles or more to reach the San Juan Hills High School, passing right by high schools that have served their communities for years and, in some cases, decades. Families who have spent years supporting their local high schools through booster clubs and other activities, and building friendships with other families at those schools, feel particularly betrayed.

“Our children deserve the chance to attend our neighborhood high school with their lifelong friends, and shouldn’t be forced to go to a school in another city based on their race or ethnicity,” said Michael Winsten, president of Neighborhood Schools For Our Kids. Winsten lives in the Capistrano Unified School District with his wife Cheryl and their four children. They are expecting their fifth child in September.

Proposition 209, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 1996, amended California’s Constitution and requires school districts to “not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of . . . public education.”

Pacific Legal Foundation has successively sued school districts and state and local governments to enforce Proposition 209 since it was enacted.

“Proposition 209 clearly prohibits the use of race in drawing school attendance boundaries to racially balance public schools,” said Sharon Browne, a principal attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation who has led the organization’s enforcement of Proposition 209. “Our public schools should teach students to view people as individuals rather than members of certain racial groups, but the Capistrano school district is assigning students to schools based on the color of their skin.”

“Proposition 209 guarantees that public school students will not be victims of racial balancing programs that classify and treat them differently based on their race,” Browne said.

PLF began defending Proposition 209 the day after it passed in 1996, representing the proposition’s drafters in federal court against the first legal challenge to the antidiscrimination law. In 2002, PLF won the most significant Proposition 209 challenge to a preference program in public education in Crawford v. Huntington Beach Union High School District, 98 Cal. App. 4th 1275 (2002), where an appellate court held Huntington Beach Union High School District’s illegal use of race in its intradistrict student transfer program violated the state constitution.

PLF also has won the most significant cases enforcing Proposition 209 against discriminatory government public contracting programs. In 2000, PLF won the first Proposition 209 enforcement case to reach the California Supreme Court. In Hi-Voltage Wire Works, Inc. v. City of San Jose, 24 Cal. 4th 537 (2000), the high court struck down San Jose’s race-based public contracting program as unconstitutional. In 2004, PLF won high-profile court victories against preference programs run by the City and County of San Francisco (Coral Construction, Inc. and Schram Construction, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco, currently on appeal to the First District Court of Appeal, Case No. A107803) and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (C & C Construction, Inc. v. Sacramento Municipal Utility District, 122 Cal App. 4th 284 (2004)).

And last month, in another PLF win, a court invalidated a 2003 law enacted by the Legislature and signed by former Governor Gray Davis that sought to undermine Proposition 209. (Connerly v. Davis, Sacramento Superior Court, Case No. 03AS05154 (May 26, 2005)).

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