Fate of S.F. schools’ melting pot at Supreme Court

San Francisco school officials have been anxiously awaiting two Supreme Court rulings — expected to be issued today — on the use of race as a factor in public school assignments.

Although the cases involve school systems in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, the rulings could set precedent for school districts across the country, said Heidi Anderson, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Unified School District.

“I think every school district is eagerly awaiting what the Supreme Court does,” Anderson said. “It will determine what options are available to school districts in terms of the student assignment process, especially if the use of race is an option.”

San Francisco was under a federal court order from 1983 to 2005 to desegregate its schools. As a result, it attempted to diversify schools by giving minority students some preference within the school assignment process — an effort that has created controversy with families of students who didn’t get assigned to schools of choice or a neighborhood school.

The desegregation effort was revised in 1999, after Chinese parents sued the school district, charging that their children were being denied the opportunity to go to popular schools due to the consent degree.

As a result, students are now assigned through a “diversity index” formula that factors in a student’s socio-economic background but does not consider race — a complex system that still frustrates some families and has deterred others from enrolling their children in the district out of fear that they’ll receive an undesirable school assignment.

Despite integration efforts, however, nearly half of San Francisco’s 110 public schools are “severely segregated” at one or more grade levels, with test scores for African-American students lagging behind their peers at every urban school district in the state, according to an independent monitor’s report done in 2005. The monitor’s findings reintroduced the question of whether race should be a factor in the school assignment process.

School Board President Mark Sanchez said that while the board has been interested in reintroducing ethnicity back into student assignment, the district has been waiting on the Supreme Court rulings.

The district’s new incoming Superintendent, Carlos Garcia, told board members during a prehiring interview that he’d want to use race in admissions, if legally permissible, Sanchez said.

David Campos, the general counsel for the school district, said there’s no telling what the Supreme Court will decide.

“At one end of the spectrum, they could make it totally permissible under very broad circumstances to use race; at the other end of the spectrum, they could completely close that door,” Campos said.

beslinger@examiner.com


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