On the last day of the 2006-2007 Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts announced a decision that will inevitably stir up diversity issues within schools across the nation, and the Chicago Schools. It will most certainly change the way most school systems, including those within the Chicago Schools, run their magnet programs. And it will affect how they decide which students to steer towards, and to accept into, each program.
The decision decried racial balancing in schools where race is used for magnet programs. Many of the magnets within the Chicago Schools use race as a factor in accepting students into their programs. There is one group of magnets in the Chicago Schools that selects students based completely on racially weighted lotteries. The students’ applications are sorted according to race, and then drawn in lotteries. This is meant to achieve racial diversity. Acceptance into other magnet programs is based on grades, test scores, academic achievement, and extracurricular involvement. Race is used as a minimal determining factor.
Some administrators in the Chicago Schools fear that this threatens the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education; the decision in which segregation based on color was denounced.
Patrick Rock, the attorney for Chicago Schools, stated that the decision will only affect Chicago Schools if and when a federal justice agrees to release them from a desegregation consent decree which dates all the way back to 1980. He stated that at some point in the future the Chicago Schools may ask to have the decree dissolved but states ”‘the question is when”. Rock also said that the Supreme Court ruling only affects how the Chicago Schools run their programs after the decree is dissolved. That may not be until the fall of 2008. This is when the application process will begin for the 2009 school year. In the meantime Chicago Schools’ magnets will continue to use the same criteria for admittance into the programs.
Administrators say that Chicago Schools use race as a determining factor to keep schools racially diverse. Not as a means to segregation. The Supreme Court ruling does not disallow the Chicago Schools from using race. It simply states that a valid and compelling reason must be given for doing so. In the Chicago Schools these reasons often include ensuring racial diversity in the many areas where it doesn’t exist.
Rock doesn’t feel that the Chicago Schools will eliminate magnet programs in order to avoid litigation, however, there are those on the Supreme Court who feel that many school systems nationwide may begin to dissolve their magnet programs to avoid litigation and its ensuing costs. The Chicago Schools may choose to use race as a way to determine where to build schools to ensure this diversity, how to fund schools in certain areas, and which programs to steer students towards- based more on their talents and achievements and not solely to fill a certain percentage of racial mix.
Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U. S. public and private K-12 schools. For more information please visit Chicago Schools