Federal Appeals Court Upholds Seattle's Use of Race in School Admissions
By Gene Johnson Associated Press Writer
Published: Oct 20, 2005
SEATTLE (AP) - A federal appeals court Thursday upheld the Seattle school district's use of race as a tie-breaking 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 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 7-4 ruling. "We also conclude the district's plan is narrowly tailored to meet the district's compelling interests."
In Seattle, students list which high schools they would prefer to attend. When a high school has more applicants than classroom seats, the district uses a series of tiebreakers to decide who gets in. Race was the district's second-most-important tiebreaker, after whether a student has a sibling at the school.
A parents group sued in 2000 over the practice, and two years later school officials dropped race as a consideration while the case made its way through the courts.
A 9th Circuit panel sided with the parents last year in a 2-1 ruling. But that decision was overturned Thursday by the full court.
Kathleen Brose, president of the parents group, said she will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"These children need access to their neighborhood schools, and they're not going to get it if the district uses a racial tiebreaker," said Brose, whose daughter was prevented from attending the high school closest to her home her freshman year because of the policy.
District spokeswoman Patti Spencer said she did not know whether the 46,000-student school system, which is about 40 percent white, would restore race as a tie-breaker before the high court weighs in.
"We're very pleased," Spencer said. "We believe, and many of our parents and families believe, it's important to have schools that are diverse."
The ruling is the second federal appeals court opinion this year to uphold voluntary desegregation plans by school districts. In June, a 3-2 ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a plan used by the school district of Lynn, Mass.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings concerning the University of Michigan, saying public universities may consider the race of applicants in their admissions process, as long as race is not an overriding factor.
But the high court has never ruled on the voluntary diversity plans used by many public high schools around the country.
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