December 4th, 2006 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Supremes' Race Case Could Change PPS Policy—But How?

U.S. Supreme Court justices listened Monday to opening arguments in a case that will test the constitutionality of using race as a determining factor in assigning public-school students to their schools.

The outcome of the case will have sweeping implications for schoolchildren across the country, including the 46,000 students attending Portland Public Schools.

And it grows out of two related cases from Seattle and Louisville, where school district officials used race to maintain "diverse" schools. Summaries of those cases are available here and here.

Currently, PPS does not use race as a factor in deciding what transfer requests to grant, because those transfers are settled through a lottery. (Meaning: if two students want to go to Lincoln and only one spot remains, luck of the draw, not external factors like race, determines who wins out.) However, as Terry Olson points out, the original intent of PPS's transfer policy may have been to increase diversity anyway—by giving students the chance to attend schools outside their own neighborhoods.

Several PPS school-board members said recently they were not willing to comment on the Supreme Court case or its implications for Portland.

"It will be very interesting to see how the court rules in this case," Bobbie Regan, co-chair of the board wrote in an email from October.

I had asked her (as well as every other member of the school board) if she would be in favor of implementing a new transfer policy giving weight to a student's race, if the Supreme Court ruled that race could be a factor.

Regan also wrote: "I am not prepared to give you or anyone else a "yes" or "no" answer to your
question. First, the case has not yet been decided and, second, the Portland School Board is scheduled to begin a thorough review and assessment of our transfer policies at a board work session next month [November]. I'm looking forward to approaching this discussion with an open mind and expect that any policy ramifications to come will happen only after a thoughtful and thorough evaluation and community discussion."

Also in October school-board member David Wynde wrote in an email: "I'm not willing to provide a yes or no answer to your question. This is a complex subject and I'd want to have thoughful consideration of the whole topic before making a decision on a possible change in policy."

School-board member Doug Morgan said: "I would never give a yes or no answer until reading the details of the court opinions (of which there are likely to be several) and having a conversation with our legal counsel and board colleagues on the implications of the Court's decision for a wide variety of issues,including transportation, budget allocation, teacher assignments, etc."

They were the only school-board members to respond.
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