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Seattle officials say 'race-conscious' efforts still legal

Story Highlights

• School officials say high court ruling bars only race-specific measures
• Supporters see "silver lining" in four dissenting opinions
• Parent says school is for education, not social experiments
• Congressman attacks Justice Thomas for his opinion in case
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- School officials in Seattle, Washington, said Thursday they know they cannot use "race-specific" rules to increase diversity in their schools but believe they can accomplish similar goals with "race-conscious measures."

The school officials reacted to a landmark Supreme Court decision that said race cannot be a factor in the assignment of children to public schools in America.

The ruling addressed two specific school plans -- one in Seattle, Washington, and one in Louisville, Kentucky -- both of which aimed at maintaining racial diversity in their systems. (Full story)

Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said his city's schools had provided "a quality education for all students and broken down racial barriers" for 30 years, The Associated Press reported.

But Deborah Stallworth, who in 2000 sued to end cross-district busing in Louisville, said, "We send children to school to be educated, not as a social experiment," according to AP. (Watch how the justices fought over ruling Video)

Gary Ikeda, the general counsel of Seattle Public Schools, said the school board now knows that there are "two pathways" to approach the assigning of students to schools.

"Race-conscious measures can be taken," he said, but race-specific measures cannot.

He said "race-conscious" programs would include magnet schools, recruiting families to specific schools, and allocating teachers and resources "for the purpose of promoting racial diversity."

"The main thing is that our nation's highest court has reaffirmed that diversity matters," said Raj Manhas, the superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that under narrow circumstances race can still be considered by school officials.

"This nation has a moral and ethical obligation to fulfill its historic commitment to creating an integrated society that ensures equal opportunity for all its children," he wrote. "A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district, in its discretion and expertise, may choose to pursue."

Under Seattle's tiebreaker plan, which began in 1998, families could send their children to any school in their district. When there were more applicants than spaces available, or when a school was not considered "racially balanced," race was one of several "integration tiebreakers" used to achieve diversity.

Civil rights leaders followed Manhas' lead, saying Kennedy and the four dissenters still approve of race-conscious programs.

"We got rained on today, but there's a silver lining," said Theodore Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, according to AP.

"The rejection of the Seattle and Louisville school plans represents a significant step backwards in a nation where schools are becoming increasingly segregated by race and ethnicity" said Dennis Parker of the American Civil Liberties Union, AP reported.

Meanwhile, the highest-ranking black lawmaker in Washington took direct aim at the only black member of the Supreme Court after the ruling.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, released a statement saying that "never in my wildest dreams did I think I would live to see the Supreme Court of the United States undercut the basic tenets of our society."

"What's more disturbing is the way this Supreme Court has worked systematically with the help of at least one who benefited from all the efforts that he seems hell-bent on undermining," Clyburn said -- an apparent reference to Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas, the court's only black member, voted with the majority in the 5-4 decision.


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Students walk away from the Supreme Court building, where justices ruled race-specific school programs illegal.

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