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MA Impact of Race Ruling

This article is more than 15 years old.

The U-S Supreme Court ruling that says race could not be used to decide where students go to school in Seattle and Louisville could have ramifications in Massachusetts.

At least 20 school districts here have race conscious programs. In Lynn, the policy of using race to determine student assignments was recently challenged in court and upheld. But, as WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports, some say that could change.


MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The Supreme Court's ruling could revive a case decided in 2005 that Lynn public schools could use race as a factor in student transfers. In Lynn a parent sued the school system because her daughter was refused entrance to a school because she was white and it would upset the racial balance. The lawyer for the family, Chester Darling, says because Supreme Court justices citied the Lynn decision in their ruling, it applies to programs in Massachusetts.

CHESTER DARLING: They are not making any real distinction. They all are the same Louisville Seattle and Michigan too, our case in Lynn were based on the fact that the government was awarding or denying a benefit on the basis of basis of child's race **

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Darling wants the Massachusetts Attorney General to declare all the voluntary programs unconstitutional or he says he's ready with plaintiffs to fight them in court. Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement yesterday she will review the decision and analyze its implications, if any, for Massachusetts.

Nadine Cohen with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights doesn't believe there are any implications for the Lynn case.

NADINE COHEN: I don't think it is explicitly overruled by any means. When the Supreme Court had the opportunity to review the Lynn case they did not choose it and I think if they had reviewed the Lynn plan they would have found that plan to be constitutional. What they found in the Seattle and Louisville plans is that they weren't crafted with enough specificity and they were too broad. I think the Lynn plan is very different.

T MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: he state Education commissioner is also studying the ruling to determine what impact it may have on public schools in Somerville, Brockton, Revere and the more than a dozen other communities that have some form of race conscious programs aimed at promoting integration.

Erica Frankenberg is with Harvard University's Civil Rights Project. She says the Supreme Court didn't entirely rule out using race as a factor in school assignments.

ERICA FRANKENBERG: Not everything has been thrown out of the window there still tools that are considered to be constitutionally permissible. I think we're tying to figure out what that might look like and of course it's going to vary by district.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Frankenberg encourages school districts to think hard before they discard any racial integration plans because there is compelling evidence showing districts that have race neutral plans have re-segregation. Justice Anthony Kennedy,did note in his opinion that schools may adopt general policies to ensure they reflect the diversity of their communities.

Professor Victoria Dodd, who teaches constitutional and education law at Suffolk University, says this leaves the door open.

VICTORIA DODD: The majority was certainly very firm that race could not be used at all as a factor but the only wiggle room here it appears would be Justice Kennedy, who although he struck down this program did not seem to be as firm that he might strike down every program.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Dodd says Massachusetts may have to wait for more cases to test the ramifications of the ruling.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov

This program aired on June 29, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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