Orange County Judge Rejects Challenge to School Integration Plan

August 30, 2006 12:00 am

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Schools May Consider Race to Ensure Diversity, Judge Says


ORANGE, CA — An Orange County judge today resisted attempts to hobble integration efforts in California public schools and upheld the Capistrano Unified School District’s ability to consider race to avoid segregation at its schools.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed in June by a conservative public interest law firm seeking to block the integration plan. Parents of students enrolled in the district challenged the lawsuit with help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

“We are delighted that the court reaffirmed the importance of integration in public schools and held that some uses of race are indeed constitutional under the California Constitution,” said Catherine Lhamon, racial justice director at the ACLU of Southern California. “This decision sends a strong message to school districts throughout the state that they should continue efforts to integrate their schools in ways that satisfy the law.”

Over the past 14 years the Capistrano school district has built 29 new schools including a new high school in San Juan Capistrano, San Juan Hills High School, which is scheduled to open in August 2007. In order to balance enrollment at the new school, officials redrew attendance boundaries using race as one of many factors to avoid segregation based on race, socio-economic background or ethnicity at the school. Opponents of the plan claimed that the policy was unconstitutional under California’s Proposition 209, which prohibits discrimination or the use of race for preferential treatment.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler disagreed.

“The mere ‘consideration’ or ‘taking into account’ of racial/ethnic composition does not necessarily seem to ‘discriminate’ or grant ‘preferences’ based on race,” wrote Judge Andler in her opinion.

Capistrano parents welcomed today’s decision.

“This decision is very momentous; it is what I was hoping for,” said Tareef Nashashibi, one of the parents challenging the lawsuit. “As a parent, I went into this thinking the district was doing a good job. The court decision confirms that the school district was going about things in the right way. Decisions like this one are what make our country great — they show that racism and discrimination stops at the constitution.”

The civil rights groups said today’s ruling affirms the importance of integration in public schools and the ability of school districts to take steps to avoid racial isolation in schools. In its upcoming term, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, and Meredith v. Jefferson County School District, that address similar issues under federal law.

“Capistrano students and parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have experienced the benefits of racially integrated schools first-hand, said LDF Assistant Counsel Anurima Bhargava. “In recognition of those benefits, this welcome decision affirms school districts’ ability to ensure that students are not forced to attend racially isolated schools.”

MALDEF attorney Dovie Yoana King added, “Today’s decision reaffirms the important principle that school districts can and should take reasonable steps to promote integration and avoid racially segregated schools. The court recognized that the school district’s policy does not violate Proposition 209 by using race as a guiding principle in drawing its attendance boundaries.”

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