Appeals Court Upholds Seattle’s Use of Race in School Admissions

Gene Johnson, AP, Oct. 20

SEATTLE—The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld the Seattle School District’s use of race as a tiebreaking factor in high-school admissions.

“We conclude that the district has a compelling interest in securing the educational and social benefits of racial (and ethnic) diversity,” the 7-4 majority wrote, overturning a 2-1 decision by a three-judge 9th Circuit panel last year. “We also conclude the district’s plan is narrowly tailored to meet the district’s compelling interests.”

A parents group that challenged the tiebreaker said it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re very pleased,” said school district spokeswoman Patti Spencer. “We believe, and many of our parents and families believe, it’s important to have schools that are diverse.”

She said it would be up to the school board to decide whether the district will reinstate the tiebreaker immediately or wait to see if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case.

The ruling is the second Circuit Court opinion this year to uphold voluntary desegregation plans by city school districts, cases that are helping define how far districts can go to ensure diversity in their classrooms. In June, a 3-2 ruling by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a plan used by the school district of Lynn, Mass.

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Under Seattle’s system, students listed which high schools they’d prefer to attend. When a high school had more applicants than classroom seats, the district uses a series of tiebreakers, including race, to decide who gets in.

A group called Parents Involved in Community Schools sued in July 2000, arguing that it was unfair for the school district to consider race, and Seattle halted use of the tiebreaker in the 2002-03 school year as the case made its way through state and federal courts.

“We are going to petition the U.S. Supreme court to look at this,” said PICS president Kathleen Brose, who is white. “It’s too important a decision for the city of Seattle. These children need access to their neighborhood schools, and they’re not going to get it if the district uses a racial tiebreaker.”

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