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Bid to End Preferences in S.F. Schools Denied

May 09, 1997| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A group of Chinese American students and their parents--who complained that they had to meet stricter admissions standards to get into an elite school--has lost its bid to end race-based admissions at San Francisco public schools.

A federal judge rejected their request to terminate the district's affirmative action admissions policy, which was approved by court order in 1983.

The order, issued to settle a lawsuit by African Americans and Latinos, requires racial diversity at every school. It limits the representation of any group to 45% at any school, and 40% at certain schools including prestigious Lowell High, which has an entrance examination.

That means Chinese Americans, now the largest ethnic group in the schools, must score higher on the Lowell entrance exam than other groups to gain admission.

The lawsuit contends that the policy keeps Chinese American applicants from the district's better schools, amounting to unjustifiable racial discrimination.

The admissions standards are part of a desegregation program that brings the schools $34 million a year from the state, used for busing, enrichment programs and smaller classes in schools with large black and Latino enrollment.

The lawsuit could overturn the entire program. But U.S. District Judge William Orrick, who signed the 1983 order, said some factual disputes must be resolved before he can determine whether the order is still needed to remedy past discrimination and prevent segregation. A trial may be needed to determine whether the order remains valid, he said.

Because the original lawsuit by the NAACP and other groups was settled, the extent of past discrimination in the school district has never been decided, Orrick said.

In addition, though court-supervised desegregation orders must be terminated when their goals have been met, it is not clear whether that point has been reached in San Francisco, Orrick said.

He said there was evidence that a number of schools are not complying with the 40% and 45% limits, and that some segregation still exists for black and Latino students.

According to a 1995 report, Orrick said, a disproportionate number of black students were being placed in special education classes and, until recently, blacks were placed in bilingual classes for disciplinary reasons.

It was not clear whether the ruling could be appealed immediately or whether the case must first go to trial. A lawyer for the Chinese American plaintiffs said they were reviewing their options.

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