Without a Specific Plan for the Future, Civil Rights Groups Urge Court to Maintain Integration Plan for Chicago Public Schools

Chicago - Three prominent civil rights organizations today urged a federal judge to resist any premature request to free the Chicago Board of Education for its legal obligation to promote racial integration in Chicago Public Schools. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law asked U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras to demand more than the Board's promise of future good behavior before granting the school district relief from the current three-decade-old consent decree. The groups warned that without a specific plan designed to foster integration, the City's most attractive educational opportunities - the gifted, magnet and select enrollment high schools - may become less diverse.

According to the groups' brief, the Board has yet to produce a written plan to ensure that there will be no discrimination against minority students seeking admission to magnet and selective enrollment schools once the terms of the decree have been lifted. The groups note that the only suggestions on how to move forward have been made by the Board's retained experts. These experts suggest using only socioeconomic status factors (SES) as a means of assuring racial diversity in the public schools. The civil rights organizations note that this is a change in position for the Chicago Board of Education, which joined a friend of the court brief just a few years ago in a matter before the Supreme Court of the United States and asserted that SES factors alone, without race, are inadequate for assuring diversity in a major urban school district such as Chicago.

"The mere assertion by the Board that it will create a plan in the future against discrimination is not sufficient to lift the requirements of the decree," said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "The Board must clearly tell the court, the parents and the school children of Chicago precisely what steps it will take to ensure that its future plans for the schools - especially the most attractive educational opportunities - do not result in those schools being segregated anew. To date, the Board has produced little more than vague promises of a plan, but nothing that can be analyzed and assessed."

Indeed, using SES factors as the only means of advancing or assuring diversity in public schools - according to many experts in the area - has proven to exacerbate, rather than remedy, racial segregation in urban public schools. The civil rights organizations noted that in other communities - including San Francisco - reliance on SES factors failed to produce the desired racial diversity in public schools.

The brief notes that the Board's current position - advocating for the use of SES factors without race - was not the Board's position just two years ago when it joined with other school districts across the nation during a Supreme Court case involving integration at the Seattle public schools and argued that using race as a factor in admissions was critical to promote the desired result of diverse and integrated schools. In part, according to testimony from the Board's expert in depositions, the Board appears to believe that using race as a factor would make the admissions practice at magnet and select enrollment schools legally vulnerable.

The ACLU, MALDEF and the Lawyers Committee brief makes clear that recent Supreme Court decisions, including the decision in the Seattle case just two year ago, make clear that race can be used as a factor in determining admissions and fostering diversity in a public school system is permissible.

"Having and maintaining a diverse student body in our public schools benefits all students," said Ricardo Meza of MALDEF. "The best way to ensure that diversity is to use race as one of the factors in making admissions decisions. We urge CPS to make certain that race is one factor in its admission's policy in order to ensure that the City's schools, including the premier select enrollment schools remain diverse and integrated."