NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cases Challenge K-12 Affirmative Action Policies

January 3, 2000

The battle over affirmative action is shifting from university and graduate school programs, as a growing number of parents of elementary school students challenge admissions policies for academically selective and magnet public schools that take race into account.

"These cases are potentially more threatening to the future of affirmative action than the higher-ed lawsuits," says Gary Orfield of Harvard University. That is because a Supreme Court ruling about precollege kids could affect millions of more students than one about higher education.

Here are two cases which might come before the U.S. Supreme Court:

  • In Silver Spring, Md., the parents of a seven year old sued the Montgomery County School Board after their son was barred from transferring to a math and science magnet school because it would reduce the proportion of whites in his old school.
  • And in Arlington County, Va., parents of two white children who lost a lottery for admission to an alternative kindergarten sued because lottery was weighted in favor of minority applicants.

Two different federal courts of appeal have found for the students in these cases.

The Montgomery County School Board has already petitioned the Supreme Court for a hearing, although it could result in a decision that bars schools districts across the country from using racial criteria. The schools believe their program was within the bounds the court set in its 1978 Bakke decision, since race was only one of serveral criteria used to control magnet school admissions.

Lawyers for the Arlington County School Board say it will also seek a Supreme Court review.

Source: Amy Dockser Marcus, "The New Battleground Over Race and Schools: Younger Students," Wall Street Journal, December 29, 1999.


Browse more articles on Government Issues