Planning for Integration

Earlier this year, talk swirled about the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s split decision to strike down diversity plans in the Seattle and Louisville, Ky., school districts. What does it mean? How will it affect your district’s facilities and student assignment plans?

Arriving at a clear answer is almost as confusing as the decision itself.

With its 5-4 vote, the court has created new law by an ambivalent one-vote majority. Justice Anthony Kennedy rode the fence between the two camps -- the four justices who support controlled choice plans that favor integration, and the four who believe race should not be a factor in most student assignment issues.

Kennedy said some planning to advance racial integration could not be ruled out, pointing to site selection, drawing of attendance zones, resources for special programs, targeted recruiting of students and staff, and the tracking of enrollment, performance, and other statistics to support diversity. He writes: “These mechanisms are race conscious but do not lead to different treatment based on a classification that tells each student he or she is to be defined by race.”

As a comprehensive planner with 35 years’ experience consulting school districts, all I can ask is: “What?” The tools that Kennedy suggests using seem to be rejected by the opinion that he voted with, because planners either look at race or they don’t.

From my experience, most school districts are not really affected by this debate. Why?

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