Appeals Court Rebuffs Effort to End School Desegregation Programs

December 19, 2008 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Unified School District must continue to run desegregation programs that provide all children access to a quality education, a state court of appeal ruled today in a decision that agreed with the ACLU of Southern California’s position that the key programs should stand.

In the ruling, the 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected a legal challenge brought by the American Civil Rights Foundation, a group founded by Ward Connerly, which argued that the LAUSD’s transportation and magnet school programs violated Proposition 209. That state ballot measure, passed by California’s voters in 1996, prevents public institutions from granting preferences based on race, sex or ethnicity unless they are court-ordered.

Representing students and their parents, the ACLU/SC was one of two community groups that were allowed to intervene in the case.

“We’re delighted that the court of appeal agreed that these desegregation programs are court-ordered and therefore are legally protected under Proposition 209,” said Catherine Lhamon, racial justice director for the ACLU/SC. “Today’s decision means that 56,000 students and families belonging to a wide variety of racial and ethnic groups will continue each year to benefit from the educational and career opportunities that the LAUSD’s magnet and transportation programs make possible.”

The appellate court determined that the magnet school and transportation programs, intended to desegregate the district, were ordered and subsequently approved in Superior Court, and remained in effect at the time of the passage of Proposition 209. The programs therefore “fall beyond the reach” of Proposition 209, the appellate court’s decision said.

Many of the LAUSD’s magnet schools are among its highest achieving, and have been a hopeful sign for district that has long struggled with low graduation rates and racially and economically divided schools.

“Today’s decision has statewide implications because it confirms a line of lower-court opinions that have consistently held that Proposition 209 does not categorically bar school-district desegregation efforts – and that, instead, school districts must continue to take steps to desegregate schools in ways that are consistent with Proposition 209,” Lhamon noted.

“The court today rebuffed the misguided agenda of an isolated group that tries to stop desegregation efforts by hiding behind an overreaching misinterpretation of Proposition 209. California families can take comfort in today’s court decision protecting all our rights to educational opportunity.”

Connerly’s group originally challenged the legality of the district’s programs in 2005. In 2007, a Superior Court judge upheld the district’s use of race in determining admission to the programs, but Connerly’s group appealed, leading to today’s decision.

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