Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One year after Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, No. 1

By Treisa Martin, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

June 28, 2008 marked the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that thwarted many school districts’ efforts toward integration, particularly the school districts in Seattle and Jefferson County. In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, No. 1, the plurality opinion declared that race as a direct factor in student assignment plans is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the controlling opinion came from Justice Kennedy, who said that avoiding racial isolation is a compelling interest and that school districts may indirectly consider race to achieve integration. Thus, the opinion left school districts with the perplexing task of achieving a pedagogically beneficial mix of students using their own creativity.
The two districts in the case reacted quite disparately. Jefferson County has adopted a new plan that emphasizes integration by geographic areas. Under the plan, the school district is divided into six clusters, each of which was drawn to be economically and racially diverse. The district designates geographic areas as either “Geographic Area A,” in which the residents are below average median income and educational attainment, but above average minority population, or “Geographic Area B,” in which the residents are poor or middle-class white and middle-class minority. All children are assigned based on their neighborhood demographics, rather than individual characteristics.
On the other hand, in Seattle, district leaders have abandoned their efforts toward integration and accepted the resegregation that has occurred. Nearly one-third of Seattle’s schools are racially imbalanced, and twenty schools are comprised of student populations that are over 90% non-white. However, the district would rather focus on high-quality schools rather than desegregation. Although the district considered set-aside seats for children from outside neighborhoods, it is not likely this proposal would achieve significant integration.
Pat Todd, the district’s executive director for school assignment, said that Seattle is reflective of the national attitude toward integration. This trend reinforces the need for public awareness as to the benefits of integration. Additionally, the public awareness may explain the different outcomes in these two districts. Over the past year, Jefferson County’s strategy involved soliciting community feedback in the development of their new student assignment plan. A recent University of Kentucky survey indicates that nearly nine out of ten parents support continued efforts to maintain racially diverse learning environments. Perhaps the community involvement prompted the requisite foundation for the plan’s success. Increasing effective communication may yield community support and encourage school districts to maintain their efforts toward inclusion.

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