WASHINGTON – Seventeen education and ethnic organizations this week urged the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision that the Montgomery County school system could not use race as a factor in student transfer decisions.
The organizations, headed by the National School Board Association, argue that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision undermines “the idea of providing a diverse learning environment.”
“The feeling is that there needs to be a clarification from the Supreme Court on precisely how school boards can use race on school assignment decisions,” said Edwin Darden, senior staff attorney for the association.
The groups’ briefs were filed with the high court Wednesday, the same day that Jeffrey Eisenberg asked the justices to let the lower court ruling on his son’s case stand, according to published reports. Eisenberg could not be reached to comment on the case Thursday.
The case began in 1998 when Eisenberg asked that his son Jacob, then 6, be transferred from Glen Haven Elementary School in Silver Spring to nearby Rosemary Hills, a science and math magnet school.
The Montgomery County Board of Education turned down the request because the number of white students at Glen Haven was declining and transferring Jacob, who is white, would have further upset the school’s racial balance.
The Eisenbergs challenged the decision and the case eventually landed in court. In October, the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of the family, saying that the school district’s student transfer policy was illegal because it denied students access to some schools due to race.
“As we have pointed out, such race-based governmental actions are presumed to be invalid,” the appeals judges wrote. The school system “may not consider the race of the applicant in granting or denying the transfer.”
After the decision, the school board changed its transfer policy to deny all transfers unless a student can prove hardship.
Darden said that school systems must be able to decide where to place students if they are to maintain any sort of diversity and equality in the classroom.
Another group that joined Darden’s association in the case said the high court should consider the 4th Circuit ruling because there needs to be a national standard on how to use race when placing students in schools.
“The standards and rationale for school transfers and when race can be used as a basis for decisions is not clear,” said Quentin Lawfon, executive director of the National Alliance of Black Educators. “We think it should be accelerated to the Supreme Court …so that [the ruling] could be applicable across the board.”
The Supreme Court will decide this spring if it will hear the case.
-30- CNS 02-10-00