Sunday, July 01, 2007
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
High court denies equal education
Whatever side of the school integration issue you are on, you can sympathize with Crystal Meredith, the Louisville woman who sued the local school system over its racially determined admission policy because it forced her to drive 90 minutes to pick up her son and drop him off at his father’s for visitation. Based on the fact that he is white, he was denied admission to two schools closer to home because it would upset their racial balance. Many other families across the country, white and black, have found themselves similarly inconvenienced in a big way by integration programs. As understandable as their unhappiness over these conditions is, there is a larger cause than theirs under consideration here: the crucial cause of equal education for minorities, which the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling zeroed in on 53 years ago and which remains a prime concern of school reformers. In striking down school integration programs in Louisville and Seattle, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a potentially crippling blow to that cause. Adding insult to injury, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, actually said the court was acting in the spirit of Brown in disallowing the schools to “discriminate on the basis of race.”
It remains to be seen how profoundly the bitterly divided 5-4 decision will overhaul the status quo. As with other recent close decisions by the high court, this one saw strong disagreement within the five-member conservative bloc that carried the day. While agreeing that the programs in Louisville and Seattle were unconstitutional, Justice Anthony Kennedy scored Roberts for his “all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when, in my view, it may be taken into account.” Racial diversity in schools, he said, was a worthy goal that could be pursued by school districts through “narrowly tailored” programs. We can anticipate widespread efforts to meet that criterion.
For the moment, Chicago schools likely won’t be affected by the decision. A 1980 desegregation consent decree placed public schools under federal oversight. Efforts to get the decree lifted have failed and, according to Chicago Public Schools attorney Patrick Rocks, it takes precedence over the Supreme Court decision. But at some point, Rocks said, the CPS will ask to terminate the decree. Where that will leave the city’s magnet schools, which to varying degrees use race as a factor in their evaluation of applications, is open to conjecture. Elsewhere in Illinois, there appears to be no immediate threat to standing policies.
The court’s decision might seem a bit more reasonable if schools were closing in on the goal of equality. But statistics tell us that more than one in six black children attend schools that are overwhelmingly minority in composition. As Justice Stephen Breyer said in his dissenting opinion, “The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown. The plurality’s position, I fear, would break that promise. This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret.”