Dept. of Education: School districts can use race-based policies to avoid segregation

But education official says they should take care not to violate past Supreme Court rulings.

June 28, 2012

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights says it wants to remind school districts that they can use race in their admissions policies. That came in response to an analysis by WBEZ that shows deepening segregation in the metro Chicago.

“We withdrew previous guidance that the last administration had issued, which effectively chilled the use of race as a factor when determining things like school assignment plans and zoning patterns,” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights.

The advice given to districts by the Bush administration came as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the use of race in assigning students to schools. However, the Court’s full ruling did say schools could use race if they are trying to maintain diversity or avoid racially isolated schools.

Listen to Ali talk about the department’s guidance.

 

Still, Ali said the department does “not enforce integration.”

However, during the 20 year period WBEZ analyzed, Chicago Public Schools was under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that required them to increase diversity in the systems's highly segregated schools.

Most of the city's magnet and selective enrollment schools were created under that decree and were intended to promote integration. The decree was lifted in 2009, the last year included the WBEZ's analysis.

Critics say that the Deptartment of Education is ignoring racial diversity and advocating for policies that actually perpetuate racial isolation.

But Ali countered such views, saying the department is focused on creating high-quality schools, regardless of who attends them.

“While integrated environments are great, monolithic environments can be great too,” she said.

Listen to Ali talk about integrated schools versus racially isolated schools.

 

Hear her talk about Brown v. Board of Education and why, she thinks, separate isn’t always unequal.

 

Linda Lutton contributed to reporting.