Perspectives: A Win in the Diversity Column
March 19, 2009 |
by F. Matthews
In what could be considered the understatement of the year, John Payton said this about what has to be a major setback for diversity opponents: “This is an important victory.”
Payton, who is president and director–counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was referring to a stunning decision by a California appellate court to uphold a school assignment diversity plan instituted in Berkeley, Calif.
The Berkeley Unified School District policy takes into account the demographics of the neighborhood where the students live, including the racial makeup of the neighborhood, education level of adults in that neighborhood and average household incomes.
The issue of race has been at the core of a long line of cases, including two that found there way to the United States Supreme Court in 2007.
Those cases came out of Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, Wash. In both cases a majority of the court held school assignments could not be based on students’ race. Even the consideration of race has been seen by many as being the ultimate objective of many opponents to any type of diversity effort.
The California court concluded that since the plan considers the racial makeup of neighborhoods, rather than characteristics of individual students, it did not violate California’s Proposition 209, the voter-approved affirmative action ban.
Justice Patricia Sepulveda of the three-judge panel wrote, according to The San Jose Mercury News, that the district’s policy does not violate Proposition 209 because it “does not show partiality, prejudice or preference to any student on the basis of that student’s race.” Sepulveda wrote for the court, “All students in a given residential area are treated equally — regardless of the student’s individual race or other personal characteristics.”
The court’s decision appropriately recognized the importance of the school district’s efforts to bring students together across lines of race and class and to provide access and opportunities to students who live in areas of concentrated disadvantage.
The 2004 plan that was approved by the court represents the latest among many attempts of the Berkeley school district to overcome a persistently segregated housing pattern.
Should the American Civil Rights Foundation, which filed suit, choose to appeal the decision, it will likely wind its way up to the Supreme Court.
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