Civil Rights Groups Offer Parents Legal Support in Battle to Avoid Segregation in Southern California School District

September 27, 2005 12:00 am

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ORANGE, CA — Four civil rights groups today filed a motion on behalf of a racially and ethnically diverse group of parents who support the Capistrano Unified School District’s (CUSD) ability to consider race to avoid segregated schools when drawing up new boundaries for attendance.

“School districts like CUSD should have the flexibility, when drawing attendance boundaries, to consider race for the purposes of promoting integration and avoiding segregation,” said Hector O. Villagra, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California’s Orange County office and a participant in today’s legal action. “The plaintiffs’ lawsuit is a misguided effort to expand Proposition 209 to forbid public school districts from taking any steps to avoid the operation of racially and ethnically isolated schools.”

The Capistrano parents, along with the ACLU of Southern California, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Asian Pacific American Legal Action Center (APALC), and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), are seeking to become part of a lawsuit entitled Neighborhood Schools for Our Kids v. Capistrano Unified School District. The parents are active members of the Capistrano community whose children are currently enrolled in CUSD schools. The district is located in San Juan Capistrano in the center of Southern California, midway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

In June 2005, an organization opposed to the school district’s assignment policy filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of California, alleging that the school district violated California law by considering the avoidance of “racially, ethnically, and socio-economically identifiable schools” as one of nine factors in its decision-making process for the school district’s new attendance boundaries.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the ACLU noted, California courts have recognized the harms of racial segregation — regardless of its cause — and the benefits of educating children in integrated settings. So significant are the positive educational and long-term benefits of an integrated public education that for more than 30 years, California state courts have interpreted the state constitution to require school districts to take reasonably feasible steps to avoid segregated schools.

“This case is an effort by opponents of racial and ethnic integration in our public schools to limit the promise of Brown v. Board of Education and turn back the hands of the clock more than a half century,” said LDF Assistant Counsel Anurima Bhargava. “In reality, the attendance zones adopted for all of the schools are contiguous and maintain the concept of neighborhood schools. No student is required to travel an excessive distance, nor is any individual assignment decision made on the basis of race.”

Tareef Nashashibi, one of the parent intervenors in the case, added: “It’s important that my children attend a school with a diverse population. My children will be better prepared for the workforce and other experiences in life because they attended diverse schools. I know that had they grown up in another school district they would not have had the same rich experiences.”

Over the past 14 years, the school district has built 29 new schools in response to the fast-growing student population and the resultant overcrowding of existing schools. The school district began construction of a new high school in San Juan Capistrano named San Juan Hills High School. Scheduled to open in August 2006, San Juan Hills is the district’s sixth high school and likely to be the last high school built in the district.

The opening of San Juan Hills High School required the school district to analyze and redraw attendance boundaries to balance high school student enrollment among all of the area high schools and to align middle-to-high school feeder patterns. In accordance with board policy, the school district considered race as one of numerous factors in the drawing of these attendance boundaries, insofar as it was necessary to avoid racially, ethnically and socio-economically identifiable schools. This continued consideration of race is necessary because of persistent residential segregation, with poorer, largely minority neighborhoods increasingly surrounded by expensive beachfront properties and planned communities, the groups filing today said.

“I send my son and sent my daughter to public school because our local schools are excellent, as measured by state required standardized tests, but also because our schools teach social and moral lessons relating to tolerance and inclusion that my kids might not get in a more homogenous school,” said James Corbett, an intervening parent who also teaches Advanced Placement European History and Advanced Placement Art History at Capistrano Valley High School. “I believe students who have not learned to work with and respect people from a variety of backgrounds are severely handicapped in life, not to mention the workplace.”

Julie A. Su, litigation director of APALC, added: “The invaluable benefits to all students of learning in a racially and ethnically diverse environment are well-documented. For that reason, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center has long supported the efforts of educational institutions to combat racial segregation.”

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