Court: Schools cannot use race in tiebreaking admission decisions

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2002

SEATTLE -- The Seattle School District cannot use race as a tiebreaker for high school admissions while it contests a ruling that found its use of the tiebreaker illegal, a federal appeals court panel says.

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday granted an injunction requested by families who had challenged the policy. The injunction means that the district must redo its assignments for about 3,000 students entering high school next fall, even as its appeal pends.

Earlier this month, the panel struck down the school district's policy, which aims to make schools more racially mixed by giving preference to underrepresented races.

The district on Friday filed its appeal, asking the full court in San Francisco to review the ruling.

In Seattle, students may pick which high schools they would like to attend. If too many students pick the same school, the district uses tiebreakers to determine who will be admitted.

The first tiebreaker is whether a student has a brother or sister already attending the school. The second is race.

Race is far less a factor in elementary and middle schools, where geography is considered as the second tiebreaker.

The racial tiebreaker policy was challenged by four families who say their children have been or may be denied admission to the schools of their choice because of their race. The state's Initiative 200, passed by voters in 1998, banned racial preferences in government jobs, contracts and school admissions.

A U.S. District judge upheld the policy last year, saying that it was fair because it applied to whites and nonwhites alike. The appeals panel struck it down, saying I-200 was clear in banning consideration of race.

On Thursday, popular Ballard High School Principal David Engle announced his resignation in protest of the ruling, saying it will lead to increasingly segregated schools. His action drew a standing ovation at a school assembly.

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