Calif. Court OKs Race Admissions
Ruling tailored for experimental school to conduct research but could apply elsewhere
SAN FRANCISCO — An experimental University of California-Los Angeles elementary school here that uses racial admissions to study learning skills survived another court test this month but still faces more legal challenges.A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the Los Angeles school legally could deny admission to a 4-year-old Asian American girl because race is the basis of the school’s research.Although narrow in its scope, the ruling eventually could have broader impact in this racially diverse state because several colleges and universities have set up similar programs to help improve secondary education.The University of California-San Diego established an elementary school this fall, for instance, to help boost the secondary education provided to low-income and minority students so that they can more easily get into top-flight universities.In addition, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, California State University -Dominguez Hills, Orange Coast College and several other colleges have so-called “middle colleges” — high schools on college campuses for specialized student populations. “This case has a lot to do with academic freedom and the right of researchers to establish the subject matter of their research without excessive governmental interference,” Joseph D. Mandel, the University of California-Los Angeles’ vice chancellor for legal affairs told the Los Angeles Times.The case against the university was filed with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative group that has been at the lead in fighting numerous anti-affirmative action court cases here in the western United States.Foundation attorney Sharon Browne warns the appeals court’s ruling could lead to “more classrooms set up as educational experiments and racial quota systems set up to determine who is allowed in the classroom.”The child’s lawyers say they will appeal to the full court. Her parents also have filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court under Proposition 209, the 1996 California initiative that bans race and sex preferences in state and local education, employment and contracting. The first lawsuit was based on federal civil rights law.“The basis for their justifying doing research based on racial quotas is that there are differences in the way the races think,” says James K.T. Hunter, the child’s father, who is an attorney. “This is the first time any opinion will have been based on an assumption that the races think or learn differently.”Dennis Perluss, a lawyer for the school, contends that the research is valid and that it is based on numerous studies suggesting that “the fact of race has an impact on learning. What scholars are trying to figure out is why and how, and how do we overcome that. Starting with a 4-year-old is really the way to deal with the issue.”The elementary school, although considered private, is run by the state-supported university’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and is considered unique in this state. Tuition costs up to $8,500 a year, depending on family income.The school’s teachers, including 27 with doctorates, educate 460 students who are considered research subjects on learning styles and teaching methods for California’s urban schools.The dissenting jurist in the case, Judge Robert Beezer, says the case will allow virtually any public school or university to declare itself a “research laboratory” and use racial quotas.“Every stratum of a state’s public education system … may now, in the name of ‘research on effective educational strategies,’ implement a racially classified admissions system,” Beezer wrote in his dissenting opinion. But the majority disagreed, saying research “affects the day-to-day mission” of the school.The Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School has 460 students and considers hundreds of applicants for about 50 places each year.Aiming at a particular student population, it takes into account applicants’ race and ethnicity, sex, family income, dominant language and other factors. The class that entered in the fall of 1995, the focus of the suit, was 39 percent White, 22 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black, 9 percent Asian and the rest mixed-race, the ruling states.Keeley Tatsuyo Hunter, whose sister had attended the school, was one of 215 applicants for 46 places in the beginning class for 4-year-olds. She identified herself as Asian-American on the basis of her one-fourth Japanese ancestry.Her mother’s suit argued that the school’s consideration of race violated federal civil rights law and the U.S. Constitution. Hunter, now in the third grade, attends a private school in the Los Angeles area.U.S. District Judge David Kenyon ruled in the school’s favor after hearing from numerous researchers and educational experts, at the University of California and elsewhere, who said only a specific racial population would allow scientific studies that were useful for California’s diverse urban population.In upholding his ruling, the appeals court compared the school to a medical school that used Jewish patients to study Tay-Sachs disease, or Blacks to study sickle-cell anemia.The Los Angeles elementary school’s “use of race-ethnicity in its admissions process is narrowly tailored to achieve the necessary laboratory environment,” says Judge Harry Pregerson, who was joined by Judge Michael Hawkins.In his dissent, Beezer said the ruling shows “a disquieting renewed tolerance for the use of race in governmental decision-making.” He also contends racial admissions can be used only to counteract past discrimination, which did not exist at the school.Pregerson argued that no such limitation has been recognized by the circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court.
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