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Two school diversity cases: Same issue, with a twist

Story Highlights

• Supreme Court expected to rule on two cases involving race and schools
• Cases originate in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle Washington
• Louisville relies on formula that black enrollment be between 15 and 50 percent
• Seattle uses race as a deciding factors if applicants to a school exceed slots
By Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court is poised to issue key rulings in two major cases involving diversity in schools.

The issues are the same: racial equality and competition for quality schools. But the methods used to achieve diversity differ.

While school officials in Louisville, Kentucky, relies on a formula devised in the late 1990s to ensure diversity, the schools in Seattle, Washington, rely on a "tiebreaker."

Louisville's plan requires that African-American enrollment in most public schools be between 15 and 50 percent. School officials are striving to reflect the county population, which is 60 percent white and 38 percent black.

Under Seattle's plan, begun in 1998, families can send their children to any school in their district. When the number of applicants exceeds the spaces available, and when a school is not considered "racially balanced," race is one of several "integration tiebreakers" used to achieve diversity.

"I don't see how that makes a difference in the quality of the schools or who decides what number is the right number," Kathleen Brose, one of the parents suing the schools, told CNN.

In 2001, a group composed primarily of white parents from two neighborhoods sued, saying about 200 students had not been admitted to their schools of choice, preventing many from attending facilities nearest to their homes.

Franklin High is at the center of the controversy. Half of its more than 1,500 students are Asian-American, a third are African-American and about 7 percent are Hispanic. White enrollment dropped from 23 percent in 2000 to 10 percent last year.

"The compelling interest in this case is the parents' ability to choose where they send their kids to school -- race has no place in the three R's," said attorney Russ Brooks, who represents one of the white parents who brought suit.

Many parents have complained about the varying quality of schools in the city. They say the assignment plan violates Initiative 200, a referendum that prohibits racial discrimination and racial preferences in employment, contracting and public school admissions.

The diversity plan has been suspended while the appeals are working their way through the courts.

Seattle says its policy does not violate the initiative, since students are not turned away from the district. And it says its current school-assignment plans require less busing for racial purposes and provide more choice for parents than did earlier plans.

"This case could set a precedent for the rest of the school districts across the country, especially as school boards try to create environments that are diverse," said Seattle Public Schools spokesman Peter Daniels.


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The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on two key cases involving schools and race.

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