ZIP Code Focus in Boston School Admissions Ruled Race-Neutral

White and Asian parents who brought the challenge say the Covid-era change is focused on “racial balancing” at Boston’s top public schools, to their children’s detriment.

The First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston. (Image via Courthouse News)

(CN) — Seeing nothing wrong in the mere awareness of how new admission criteria could alter the racial makeup of a student body, a federal judge on Thursday upheld changes for the 2021-22 school year at Boston’s elite public high schools.

“Viewing everything through the prism of race is both myopic and endlessly divisive,” U.S. District Judge William Young wrote in a 48-page ruling released late Thursday evening. “Geographic and socioeconomic diversity are appropriate educational goals in their own right, regardless of race,” the Reagan appointee added.

The changes came about after pandemic-safety considerations forced Boston Public Schools to go fully remote from March 17, 2020, until October 1, 2020.

These schools remain remote at least three days every week today, as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe. Meanwhile the Boston School Committee decided in October to shelve, for just a year, the standardized exams it usually uses to steer entrance to Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science, which are the most competitive in the city.

Instead, the school district would rely on students’ geography and grade point averages to determine admission.

Four months later, a group called the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence filed suit on behalf of 14 families, eight of them Asian-American and the remaining six white.

Demanding a federal injunction, they said that Boston Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius had abandoned merit-based citywide competition in favor of what they called “ZIP Code Quota” admissions plan.

According to the complaint, the new admissions plan uses ZIP codes as a proxy for race and ethnicity to “implement a policy of racial balancing” to the detriment of white and Asian American students.

U.S. District Judge William Young threw it out, however, saying the new admissions policy based both on grades and ZIP codes, has a rational basis and “does not have the effect of subjecting students to discrimination because of their race.”

Citing the parents’ failure to proffer any expert testimony or statistical analysis of the admissions plan, Young said they simply did not meet the burden of proof.

Young also underlined how the policy “applies only to the 2021-2022 school year,” emphasis in original, to demonstrate that it was “not motivated by an invidious discriminatory purpose.”

In a statement Thursday evening, the Boston School Committee acknowledged the ruling and said invitations to the three exam schools will be sent via email and regular mail by the end of the month, after an external independent partner verifies the accuracy of its final calculations.

Represented by Richmond, Virginia-based attorney William Hurd, the group of parents immediately filed an appeal last night to the First Circuit.

Last November, the First Circuit upheld that Harvard University’s use of race in admissions does not illegally discriminate against Asian-Americans.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department under President Joe Biden announced that it was abandoning similar racial discrimination claims against Yale University brought by the previous administration, which alleged that Asian-American and white applicants had diminished likelihood of admission to the Ivy League college as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.

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