A federal judge ruled Thursday that a temporary admissions plan for Boston's exam schools is "race neutral" and does not discriminate against white and Asian students, allowing grades and zip codes to be used to assign students for the upcoming year.
U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young rejected arguments from the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence that the plan the school committee adopted last fall violates the rights of white and Asian applicants under the Constitution and state law. He said the approach lacks "any anchor to race."
The new admissions criteria, which do not include scores on a customary entrance exam that could not be given because of the pandemic, are projected to reduce the number of white and Asian students invited to enroll in Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, while the number of Black and Latino students is projected to rise.
"Any effect on the racial diversity of the exam schools is merely derivative of the plan’s effect on geographic and socioeconomic diversity — not the reverse," Young concluded in his 48-page opinion. "This court finds and rules that the plan is race-neutral, and that neither the factors used nor the goal of greater diversity qualify as a racial classification."
Under the plan, 20% of students receive invitations in rank order based on their grade point averages before the pandemic. The other 80% of seats are to be filled in multiple rounds according to applicants' grades within their zip code, starting with the lowest-income neighborhood.
"In light of the significant educational disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our goal has been to ensure a safe, fair and accurate exam school admissions process for all students in the city of Boston," the Boston Public Schools said in a statement. "We expect to send out invitations by the end of April, and we are excited to welcome a new group of students to BPS exam schools this fall.
Lawyer for the parents coalition had argued that using zip code was a "sham" motivated by a goal of "racial balancing" and would have a disparate impact on white and Asian applicants. William Hurd, the lead counsel for the coalition, labelled it a "zip code quota plan."
“We are obviously disappointed with the ruling," Hurd said in an emailed statement. Thursday night, he told GBH News that the parent coalition will appeal Young's decision.
Young acknowledged the white enrollment is estimated to decline by 16% and Asian enrollment by 24%, but he held that those decreases were not stark because both groups are so overrepresented already. Their numbers at the exam schools are almost the opposite of what they are in the district's overall enrollment, which is overwhelmingly Black and Latino. He suggested "nearly any changes to the admissions process would have resulted in some reduction, if only from the law of averages."
At the exam schols, he noted, white students are projected to drop from nearly two and a half times their share of the city's school-age population to double, while Asian students are projected to drop from three times their share to a little more than double.
Young noted that existing projections might not hold true because after they were made, the school system changed the ranking of zip codes from median income in households, which can include unrelated persons, to median income of families, where children could be present. He faulted the coalition's lawyers for not presenting a statistical analysis of the expected results of the revised rankings.
The Boston NAACP and other civil rights groups that sided with the school committee in court issued a statement hailing the decision.
"The admissions criteria that were the subject of this lawsuit were designed thoughtfully and intentionally to respond to this crisis in a way that is fair to all of our students," the groups said. "By upholding them, Judge Young has helped ensure that every student in Boston, despite the pandemic, will have the chance to attend some of the most selective schools in our city."
GBH News reporter Meg Woolhouse contributed to this story.