- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

A federal judge in Massachusetts will decide in the fall whether a public school district's policy that takes race into account in allowing student transfers is legal.

The case involves the 15,000-student Lynn School District and its desegregation policy, which blocks a student from transferring in or out of a "racially imbalanced" school if the transfer would increase the imbalance in either school.

Chester Darling, a lawyer representing several multiracial families who are challenging the policy, said yesterday the state is trying to trash the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal access to public accommodations, facilities and employment opportunities.

Mr. Darling said that it is nice to have classrooms reflect society, but that "neighborhoods are neighborhoods, and demographically some schools have more white kids than black kids and vice versa."

"The only thing that can be said for this plan is that it discriminates equally. Both minority and non-minority children are its victims," said Mr. Darling, who also is the president of the Boston-based Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit law firm. "This nation is at a crossroads. You must enforce or obey the 14th Amendment or have a race-based classification in everything we do."

The state Attorney General's Office, which is representing the city of Lynn and its school committees named in the lawsuit, did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the case.

The case has gone to trial, and closing arguments are scheduled for October. During the trial, the state argued that having children of different races mix on an equal basis when they are young can help improve academic achievement and their ability to get along with others. The citizens' group had witnesses who testified that there is no evidence that any racial mix produced such results.

Such race-conscious student assignments are common among U.S. school districts that seek integrated schools in segregated neighborhoods.

The Lynn case, however, is the first case to go to trial that raises the question of whether districts can voluntarily use race in making school assignments without proof of prior discrimination. The Supreme Court has held that schools must be desegregated when there is discrimination by the school district or local governments.

Lynn is one of 21 districts in Massachusetts to impose such a policy. The court's decision could affect school districts' voluntary plans nationwide.

Under the state's Racial Imbalance Act, local communities receive additional state education aid if they adopt student-assignment plans that assign students by race.

The city of Lynn adopted its plan in 1988, after a combination of white flight and heavy Asian and Hispanic immigration increased segregation in the schools. Of the city's 15,000 students, 42 percent are white and 58 percent are minority.

According to Lynn's plan, a child classified as "white" may not receive a transfer if the school the child wants to transfer from does not have "enough" children classified as white. At the same time, a child classified as a "minority" may not receive a transfer if the school that child wants to transfer from does not have "enough" minority children.

A school is marked as "racially imbalanced" if its racial makeup differs by more than 15 percent from the area's racial composition. That means, in Lynn, that a student population can be no more than 57 percent and no less than 27 percent white.

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