Summer School Assignment

Summer vacation began this week for millions of kids across the country,. But in many communities, school board members, principals, and administrators are still hard at work. Among their tasks for the summer is designing new ways of fulfilling the promise of equal educational opportunity and preparing students for a diverse, interconnected world.

They are responding to the Supreme Court’s decision last year on the constitutionality of voluntary school integration efforts. Because school assignment plans are typically charted out a year or more in advance, most schools have just begun to grapple fully with the decision’s implications. Fortunately, they have a range of options for pursuing integration as an integral part of educational excellence.

The Court’s decision last year struck down the voluntary integration policies of the Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington school districtrs. But, at the same time, the controlling decision of Justice Anthony Kennedy found that the goal of an integrated education is vital to our students, and to our country’s future. And his decision held that that goal is constitutionally achieveable.

Kennedy represented a majority of the Justices, who flatly rejected the idea–advanced by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito–that considering race to promote integration and educational opportunity is legally or morally equivalent to considering race to segregate children based on their skin color. And of particuloar importance to communities and educators planning for the upcoming school year, Justice Kennedy’s opinion identified specific ways in whch districts can constitutionally promote integration. These include, but are not limited to, drawing attendance zones with neighborhood demographics in mind and designating “magnet” schools designed to bring students together across neighborhoods and backgrounds. Race can be carefully considered to promote integration, Kennedy explained, so long as an individual student’s race is not used as the basis for particularized student assignment.

In the year since the Court’s decision, a number of school districts have led the way in crafting lawful and effective polciies that bring our kids together across lines of difference. They include Louisville, where the Court’s decision prompted an innovative change in policy, and Berkeley, California, which is also breaking new ground while adapting to the new legal landscape. A range of educational experts, at institutions from Harvard[], to UCLA[], to Ohio State University[], to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund[]–the architechts of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling–have also developed resources for communitiees committed to inclusive and successful educational strategies.

But successful models and useful resources won’t be enough to prompt some school districts into action. Also crucial will be the voices of parents, students, business people, and civic leaders calling for schools that prepare our kids for an increasingly diverse society and a globalized economy. Polls show that public opinion favors voluntary integration efforts over resegregation. But those views are frequently not communicated to elected and appointed officials responsible for school policymaking. That needs to change.

As the school year comes to a close, and our kids head off for their summer break, it’s time for the rest of us to go to work.

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