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Racial Quota Policy Ends at Three Elite Boston Schools

November 16, 1996|From Associated Press

Boston dropped racial quotas at its three finest public schools Friday, dismantling the 2-decade-old policy under pressure from a white girl who claimed reverse discrimination.

The quotas, a vestige of the 1970s desegregation case that plunged Boston into violence, will be replaced with a yet-to-be determined method that will "ensure that students in Boston from every racial and ethnic group have equal access," said Robert Gittens, chairman of the school board.

The decision came four days before Julia McLaughlin's lawsuit challenging the quotas was to go to court. The 13-year-old was rejected by Boston Latin School even though she scored higher on the entrance exam than 103 minority applicants admitted to the seventh grade.

Boston Latin, whose graduates include statesman Benjamin Franklin and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, is among three elite Boston public schools that require entrance exams. All three "examination schools" had a self-imposed 35% minimum set-aside for blacks and Latinos.

The new policy will take effect with the class entering next fall.

A task force this week proposed a complicated new plan that would admit half of the students based on their test scores and the other half by their racial group's percentage of the total applicant pool.

That already has brought threats of another lawsuit, this time from Asian students. About three-quarters of Boston's 63,000 public school students are black and Latino; 18% are white and 9% are Asian.

"What we will do is look at the range of options the advisory board will be presenting to us," Gittens said. "There are other ways of coming up with a formula that may be considered."

The quota system was a vestige of a 1974 desegregation order and an accompanying busing plan that touched off rioting in largely white South Boston. The upheaval lasted for years. The order remained until 1987, and the schools have continued the quota system voluntarily since then.

U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity--who wrote the 1974 order--earlier this year ruled that McLaughlin be admitted to the school while the lawsuit was in progress. He noted that she was likely to win at trial in the light of recent Supreme Court decisions saying that race-based admissions policies must be closely tailored to remedy past discrimination.

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