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Voluntary School Desegregation Is Upheld in Massachusetts

June 08, 2003|From Associated Press

BOSTON — A federal judge upheld a suburban school system's voluntary desegregation policy, throwing out a closely watched lawsuit that had been brought by parents who claimed the policy discriminated against their children.

The parents of six students -- black, white, Latino and biracial -- had sued to overturn a policy designed to bring racial balance to the schools in Lynn, about 10 miles northeast of Boston.

The case was believed to be the first challenge to a voluntary desegregation plan to go to trial. Twenty-one other Massachusetts cities and towns and several others across the country have voluntarily desegregated their school systems and were watching the case.

"This is a great victory for public school students and for civil rights," Atty. Gen. Thomas Reilly said. "Lynn's integrated elementary schools have allowed Lynn's youngest students to develop a deep appreciation and respect for people of different races, promoting tolerance among Lynn students."

U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled Friday that the Lynn system's policy was "narrowly tailored" and serves a "compelling state interest."

Under Lynn's policy, school officials may not consider race and ethnicity when parents want their child to attend their neighborhood school.

But when parents ask that their child be assigned to an out-of-neighborhood school, race or ethnicity may be a factor if school officials feel the assignment would further segregate either the student's neighborhood school or the requested school.

Chester Darling, whose Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights represents the families, called the ruling "an absolute travesty" that "perpetuates racial division."

"The judge feels obliged to compel these children to sit next to one another and balance the racial composition," he said. "This is a transgression and an injury to the 14th Amendment, the equal protection of the law, plus the liberty and trust of parents in controlling the upbringing of their children."

Unlike the Boston public school system, which was ordered by the court to desegregate, Lynn voluntarily initiated its plan 14 years ago to maintain racial balance in its schools. Its school enrollment of more than 15,000 students is 42% white and 58% minority.

Gertner wrote that the plan serves "two critical public goals -- to enable parents to choose integrated schools over segregated ones and to minimize racial imbalance across the school system."

She added that the plan improves the quality of education because "a racially diverse learning environment is essential for citizens-to-be."

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