Flash: Court Upholds Decision in Favor of BUSD Student Assignment Plan

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 17, 2009 - 04:50:00 PM

Berkeley Unified School District earned another legal victory Tuesday for its student placement plan. 

The California Court of Appeal upheld an earlier Alameda County Superior Court ruling that the plan is fair and legal. 

In October 2006, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative Sacramento-based public interest litigation firm, sued Berkeley Unified for violating California’s Propostion 209 by racially discriminating among students in placing them at elementary schools and in programs at Berkeley High School. 

After the Alameda County Superior Court ruled in favor of the plan in April 2007, the foundation appealed on behalf of the American Civil Rights Foundation. In March 2008, the foundation asked the California Court of Appeal to review the decision affirming Berkeley’s “use of race as a factor to determine where students are assigned to public schools and to determine whether they gain access to special educational programs.”  

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal ruled that because the district assigned kids to schools based on neighborhood demographics, and not specifically because of any individual student’s race, the school district is not in violation of Prop. 209’s prohibition on the use of race in public education. 

In a statement sent out by Alan Foutz, lead attorney for the case, Pacific Legal Foundation said that the “district uses race as a factor in classifying the level of ‘diversity’ in neighborhoods, and uses that classification as a key factor to determine where kids go to school.”  

“The court has carved a big hole in Proposition 209 by permitting school districts to use race as one of the factors that determine where kids will go to school,” Foutz said in his statement. “Prop. 209 is comprehensive and categorical in banning the use of race in student assignment. The court has undermined that mandate for colorblind educational policy, by allowing districts to continue using race in its student assignment decisions.” 

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said the district was delighted with the news. 

“We just heard from our lawyers and are really happy,” he said.  

District Superintendent Bill Huyett did not return calls for comment immediately.