Virtual Voices

Courts create confusion

Issues

Should America's public schools ignore or rely on race when setting school admission policies?

Some complain that the federal courts are sending contradictory messages. The Supreme Court recently ruled against "voluntary diversity" programs in Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky, saying the programs were too heavily race-based. But the courts are directing other schools (still pegged as displaying racial inequalities) to integrate schools by creating race-based admissions policies.

For instance, a federal court has ordered schools in Shelby County, Tenn., to bus minority students to schools an hour away and replace hundreds of white teachers with black teachers. In Huntsville, Ala., the court has forbidden students to transfer away from a school where they're in the racial minority. In Tucson, Ariz., transferring students have to take into account the "ethnic balance" of both schools.

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Bobby Webb, superintendent of Shelby County schools, asks, "So which ruling do I violate? … The judge's ruling now, or the earlier rulings that we can't discriminate against people on the basis of the color of their skin?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg admits that the situation is "very odd."

Edward Blum, visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, told WoW the problem is that the federal courts are making individual schools reflect the racial makeup of the entire school district, even when the schools accurately reflect the racial makeup of their actual, local neighborhood. He said busing students away from local schools puts "the concept of neighborhood school unity" into peril: "If there is a neighborhood that is multi-racial or multi-ethnic, those students should attend a local school."

Blum agrees that integration is a worthy goal but suggests that the courts let it happen naturally: "As … Hispanics and blacks move to more suburban, multi-racial neighborhoods, schools then naturally will become more integrated. … It's a naturally slow but naturally occurring process."

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