ORANGE, Calif. - An Orange County judge today resisted attempts to hobble integration efforts in California public schools and expand the meaning of Proposition 209, which prohibits discrimination or the use of race for preferential treatment.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler granted Capistrano parents summary adjudication Wednesday, saying Capistrano Unified School District 's policy permitting the use of race when drawing school attendance boundaries is constitutional.
In June, parents of students enrolled in the district asked the Orange County judge to reject the anti-integration lawsuit in its entirety the district's ability to consider race to avoid segregation at its schools, represented by 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.
"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/SC. "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."
In her opinion, Judge Andler said: "The mere 'consideration' or 'taking into account' of racial/ethnic composition does not necessarily seem to 'discriminate' or grant 'preferences' based on race." Judge Andler denied summary adjudication on the second part of the lawsuit held that the school district's actual application of its policy is not acceptable under Prop. 209 and school districts cannot use policies that appear to be racial quotas.
Capistrano parent Tareef Nashashibi said: "This decision is very momentous; it is what I was hoping for. 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 right. Decisions like this one are what make our country great--they show that racism and discrimination stops at the constitution."
"Capistrano students and parents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have experienced the benefits of racially integrated schools first-hand. In recognition of those benefits, this welcome decision affirms school districts' ability to ensure that students are not forced to attend racially isolated schools, said LDF Assistant Counsel Anurima Bhargava.
In June 2005, a newly formed organization named Neighborhood Schools For Our Kids, 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.
This 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.
Over the past 14 years the 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, CUSD redrew attendance boundaries using race as one of many factors to avoid segregation based on race, socio-economic background or ethnicity at the school.
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 CUSD's policy does not violate Proposition 209 by using race as a guiding principle in drawing its attendance boundaries."
Julie A. Su, litigation director for APALC said: "School districts that take seriously their responsibility to avoid racial segregation should take heart from the Court's opinion. This is a rejection of the notion that avoiding segregation is equivalent to illegal discrimination. That's a victory for all of California's public school children, and for all Californians who recognize that learning with students of other racial and ethnic backgrounds creates a positive learning environment for all."