Mass Attorney General Appeals Court Brief in Support of Equity & Diversity in School Admission

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In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Attorney General’s office submitted to SOURCE media.

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BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is leading a coalition of 16 attorneys general in support of Boston Public Schools’ decision to revise its admissions plan for the 2021-2022 school year, which aimed to eliminate barriers to access and ensure students of all backgrounds would be equitably served.  

The amicus brief, filed Friday in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp. v. School Committee of the City of Boston, argues against a claim that Boston’s school committee and superintendent intentionally discriminated against white and Asian-American applicants when it temporarily revised its admissions plan its three flagship “exam schools” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the interim plan, adopted for the 2021-2022 school year in part because the pandemic made a citywide standardized admissions test difficult to administer, Boston Public Schools eliminated the standardized testing requirement in favor of relying solely on students’ grades and a race-neutral ZIP-code-based formula to ensure that school placement would be equitably distributed across Boston’s neighborhoods.  

“All students need to have fair and equal access to public education and the opportunity to experience the benefits of diversity among their peers,” said Healey. “As state attorneys general, we are committed to supporting policies that are intentional in addressing inequities and removing barriers to access. I am proud to lead this brief in support of Boston Public Schools’ efforts to achieve equity.”  

The attorneys general argue in their brief against the theory that race-neutral policies are subject to strict scrutiny simply because policymakers aimed in part to increase diversity. According to the brief, this theory would, if widely adopted, thwart future attempts by school leaders to secure the numerous educational benefits that flow from student-body diversity in K-12 education for all students. The attorneys general further argue that the theory would also threaten state and local government policymakers’ efforts to break down barriers to access and decrease inequities in other policy realms such as public health. 

The District Court ruled in favor of the Boston Public Schools, and the First Circuit subsequently denied a motion by the Boston Parent Coalition for an injunction to stop the interim plan from going into effect for admissions for the 2021-2022 school year while this appeal was pending.  

According to the brief, there is precedent stretching back decades that refutes the theory that a race-neutral government policy is subject to strict scrutiny solely because, in devising the policy, policymakers aimed to increase racial and other forms of diversity. Such scrutiny would be “perverse,” according to the attorneys general: “governments would be severely constrained in their ability to serve all of their communities—and therefore would fall short for many.”   

AG Healey has long been an advocate for breaking down barriers to access and increasing equity and diversity in education for the benefit of all students. In May, AG Healey led a coalition of attorneys general in support of a school board in Fairfax County, Virginia, which had also been challenged in court for implementing a new race-neutral high school admissions policy to eliminate barriers to access and increase diversity. In August, she led a coalition of attorneys general in filing a brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of admissions policies seeking to foster diversity in higher education.  

To read the full amicus brief, click here.  

Handling the matter for Massachusetts are Ann Lynch and David Ureña, Assistant Attorneys General in the Office’s Civil Rights Division, and State Solicitor Bessie Dewar.       

Joining AG Healey in today’s brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington. 

editor

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