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Monday, September 12, 2022

AAJC, LatinoJustice, and BR File Amicus Brief Defending Equitable Admissions Plan for Boston’s Selective High Schools External Inbox

 Boston, MA – Brown Rudnick LLP, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday in support of Boston’s School Committee as it defends an admissions plan to expand access to the city’s top-ranked “exam schools.”

The amicus brief, which has been joined by 16 prominent national and local organizations (listed below), addresses the admissions policy to three Boston Exam Schools: the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. 
 
The Boston Exam Schools (the “Schools”) are among the highest ranked public schools in the nation. The Schools are renowned for their academic rigor and excellence, superior resources, and higher rates of graduation and attendance at four-year colleges as compared to Boston’s other public schools. As a result, every seat is highly coveted. Each school accepts students for grades 7 and 9, and accepted students stay on through the completion of high school. Historically, the Schools have disproportionately enrolled students from Boston’s high-income neighborhoods. As a result, low-income students, including Black, Asian American, and Latinx students, have been consistently underrepresented at the Schools.   
             

The admissions plan, developed for the 2021-22 academic year, eliminated an entrance exam due to the pandemic. Instead, the plan allocated seats based on a combination of GPA and the number of school-age children living in each of Boston’s 29 zip codes. The plan improved racial and socioeconomic diversity at the highly selective public schools by increasing the number of students admitted from Boston’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence, which represents a group of White and Asian American parents from high-income ZIP codes, opposes the plan. The coalition filed suit last year in a Massachusetts federal court arguing that the use of ZIP codes as a factor in admissions was unconstitutional and would disfavor White and Asian American students.

In April 2021, U.S. District Judge William Young ruled in favor of the Boston School Committee, which drew support from an amicus brief that Brown Rudnick and LatinoJustice filed together with Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts. The coalition appealed the decision to the First Circuit and sought to halt the implementation of the plan pending resolution of the appeal.

A three-judge panel denied the request, finding that the plan’s use of a socioeconomic measure to achieve greater racial diversity in those schools is likely constitutional.

In June 2022, the coalition filed its opening brief in the First Circuit, arguing that the Appeals Court should reverse the lower court’s judgment because the admissions plan had an alleged adverse impact on White and Asian American applicants to the Schools. In response, this amicus brief disputes the coalition’s claim that ZIP codes are a proxy for race in the admissions plan due to the increasingly multiethnic diversity within Boston’s neighborhoods, including within the Asian American community. The brief argues that the School Committee’s attention to equity in developing the admissions plan is grounded in Equal Protection jurisprudence. The brief also demonstrates that the coalition’s assertion of a disparate impact on White and Asian American students is flawed because the coalition improperly relies on the wrong comparator to assess impact. 

A link to the brief can be found here.

“The Coalition has distorted Boston’s history of racial segregation and mischaracterized important precedents that found that the Exam schools had clearly discriminated against Black and Latinx students in the past,” said Francisca Fajana, Director of Racial Justice Strategy at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The court must take this crucial historical context into account as it considers the Coalition’s specious claim that using ZIP codes as part of an admissions plan serves as a proxy for racial discrimination. It is not. We endorse the Boston School Committee’s commitment to equalizing educational opportunity for low-income students, regardless of their racial background or the neighborhood in which they live.”     

“School districts should be able to address existing inequities in educational opportunities and expand access for all students, including low-income Black, Latinx, and Asian American students,” said Eri Andriola, Staff Attorney, Litigation, at Advancing Justice – Asian American Justice Center. “All students, no matter their background or ZIP code, deserve a fair opportunity to access high-quality education.”

“This appeal is a reminder that the struggle for educational equality is far from over,” said Melanie Burke, Counsel at Brown Rudnick. “Through this amicus brief, we are doubling down in the fight for equal access to high-quality education for Boston students from all backgrounds and parts of the city.

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