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Parents Sue District Over Boundaries

The lawsuit alleges that Capistrano Unified redrew attendance lines to fulfill schools' racial quotas. Superintendent denies discrimination.

June 17, 2005|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

A group of parents Thursday sued the Capistrano Unified School District, alleging that trustees recently redrew attendance boundaries to fulfill racial quotas at individual schools in violation of the state Constitution.

The lawsuit says attendance areas were shifted this year to ensure that minority enrollment in the district's middle and high schools did not top 35%.

The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court argues that the boundary shifts violate Proposition 209, a 1996 voter-approved ballot measure that forbids racial or gender preferences in state and local governments and universities.

Arthur B. Mark III, an attorney for the nonprofit conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the parents, called the boundary shift "racial gerrymandering." He said he would seek an injunction next week to stop the district from implementing the shift.

"They're taking children away from neighborhood schools and their friends, and putting them in schools in other cities based on their skin color," Mark said.

The boundary shift apportions more than 14,000 high school students among five campuses and the new San Juan Hills High School. The move will affect thousands of students entering high schools districtwide when the new campus opens in 2006.

The new boundaries angered many parents, particularly those in affluent beach communities and subdivisions that surround poorer, predominately Latino neighborhoods in the 50,000-student district.

Supt. James A. Fleming agreed that race and ethnicity were among several factors considered when the boundaries were redrawn so that the district could avoid creating segregated schools.

"We feel very comfortable that we're not at all in violation of Prop. 209," he said. "No one has been discriminated against. No one has been given favored treatment."

Michael Winsten, a San Clemente father of four who is among the parents suing the district, disagrees. His children will be shortchanged, he said, by being separated from friends and classmates for a school where they know nobody.

"I find the whole thing offensive," Winsten said. "My intention is to have my kids go to my neighborhood high school."

Michael Hersher, assistant general counsel for the state Department of Education, said districts had broad discretion in redrawing attendance boundaries.

Lawsuits invoking Proposition 209 have been successful at eliminating affirmative-action programs and other plans that give preference to minorities, including a case in Huntington Beach where minority students were given school transfer rights not afforded to white students.

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